Seattle is Mostly White

Six White Males, Five Macs and Only One PC at This Northend Seattle Coffeeshop Today

While I greatly appreciate Nina Shapiro’s front page story on Amazon’s impacts on The Seattle Times, I disagree with her coverage of the company’s impact on Seattle diversity; in fact, her reporting contradicts two other statistical reports from The Times’ Gene Balk.

Her story focused on Amazon’s self-reported worldwide workforce diversity: 37% female, 60% white and reports on Seattle’s supposedly increasing diversity, to 34% people of color. She also focused on a city map showing increasing diversity in the North End from 2000 to 2010. There are a number of things wrong with all of this data.

Firstly, Amazon’s global workforce is over 183,000 while its local force is only 24,000 (less than 1/7th of this.) Assessing Amazon’s local workforce diversity on global data is completely inaccurate. Amazon’s public workforce numbers primarily reflect the makeup of its warehouse workers. The company continues to refuse to release gender and minority workforce data for its technology workforce and its Seattle workforce even as Microsoft has and Google, Facebook and Apple have done so for the former.

In Seattle Weekly’s Big Tech is Blind, Jesse Jackson says Amazon’s “…board of directors are all white, in 2015, and the workforce is not that different. There’s something wrong.” and it continues “Last year, Amazon reported that just 4 percent of its managers were African American.” The rumor I’ve heard is that the company’s local technology workforce is only five percent female.

The 2000-2010 city map doesn’t reflect the majority of Amazon’s growth impact on the city, which occurred since 2011 (as I wrote in You’ve Got Male, Amazon’s Seattle workforce has nearly quintupled from approximately 5,211 in 2010 to over 24,000 in 2015.) However, it does show the already radical gentrification of most of South Seattle — up 26.2% (the yellowish map areas below).

South Seattle's Whiteness Up 26.2% Before Amazon

South Seattle’s Whiteness Up 26.2% Even Before Amazon

Amazon’s just making things worse. How much worse? In October 2014, The Seattle Times statistical expert Gene Balk reported that the city’s whiter than in 2010, growing to 67% white from 65.2%: “Seattle experienced a miniboom in its white population last year, adding more than 23,000 people. That bumped up the total number of whites to 437,000 — a 6 percent increase from the year before.” Amazon’s rapid growth has been a big part of that.

And, just last month, Balk reported that King County is now the whitest of the nation’s twenty most populous counties. King County accurately reflects the greater impact of Amazon’s workforce expansion — as The Times reported, some have had to move to Bainbridge and Shoreline et al. after finding city housing unaffordable (it also missed highlighting how unaffordable housing in Seattle has become for average residents that make much less than these Amazon employees.)

Balk also reported (as I’ve… often… said), “…it’s no surprise the growth in our white population skews to men, who number 5,800 more than women since 2010.”

Jeff Reifman at PatreonThe Amazon diversity mentioned in The Seattle Times report: “on his team of 20, a dozen are from other countries, including Ukraine, Costa Rica and China” is likely from its use of the nation’s controversial H1-B visa program. According to MyVisaJobs.com, “Amazon Corporate Llc has filed 4386 labor condition applications for H1B visa and 1371 labor certifications for green card from fiscal year 2011 to 2014….ranked 21 among all visa sponsors.” While I approve of international diversity, I think these programs are exploited to pay immigrants less and leave qualified Americans unemployed. If there is a dearth of qualified Americans, it’s because our tax system fails to lead corporate investments in our education system — as the State Supreme Court’s contempt rulings on Washington’s Legislature shows (as well as Microsoft’s tax dodging.)

I emailed Ms. Shapiro about these issues and asked her if she’d be willing to file an update about it. After she declined, I thought it best to post this response. I did send her the featured photo from a local coffeeshop I walked into this morning: six white men on laptops (the only diversity was the one PC among five Macs). Overall though, I applaud her and The Seattle Times for bringing Amazon’s controversial status to its readers.

Until the company steps up to engage these issues truthfully, transparently and constructively, it’s time to end our Prime memberships and cut our spending at Amazon.

Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest. Try scheduling a meeting with his new startup Meeting Planner (https://meetingplanner.io), simpler, faster scheduling for work or play and read his series about building it). Follow @reifman on Twitter.