Monday, November 14, 2011
Madison Park: wealthy as charged
The proposal to take down the fence at so-called (by the City and no one else) Madison Park North Beach has drawn an unusual amount of media attention to our fair neighborhood in recent weeks. KING-TV, KOMO-TV and KIRO-TV have each run news stories on the subject, as have other news purveyors. Some of the coverage in the major media and blogosphere has focused on the apparent class conflict between those "upscale" Madison Parkers who wish to preserve the waterfront park as it is and certain out-of-the-neighborhood members of the public who say they want direct access to the water at 43rd Avenue E. and E. Lynn Street.
In its coverage of the issue, SeattlePI.com referred to Madison Park as "tidy and affluent," while the Seattle Times settled on "wealthy" as its descriptor for the neighborhood. We were intrigued by the fact that The Times was able to quantify the wealth aspect, noting that "Madison Park is one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods, with an average income of $161,000, according to census data."
We decided to check into this. For one thing, is the number for real? And if accurate, is it meaningful? After all, average income is probably not the best way to look at a neighborhood's affluence. Here's a simplistic example that helps explain why: suppose ten minimum-wage workers live on a residential block, along with one multi-millionaire. This combination would presumably result in a pretty high average income for that block, since you would divide the sum of the annual incomes of everyone on the block by eleven to get the average--which would be high, even though most of the block's population actually lived in poverty.
This is not a third-world neighborhood, so income disparities for Madison Park would hardly be in line with our example. But it is well known that we have quite a few millionaires (and perhaps a billionaire) living in our midst, and these high-income individuals could certainly throw off the average income calculation for the community as a whole. Having looked into the matter, we can report that while the neighborhood is definitely wealthy, the situation is more nuanced than was evident in the Seattle Times story.
First, to give the paper its due, its average income calculation for Madison Park is essentially correct (there appears to be a typo, however). The U.S. Census reports that Census Tract 63 (Madison Park, including its Broadmoor and Washington Park enclaves) has average income of $151,000, based on surveys undertaken for the period 2005-2009.
The U.S. Census also reports, however, that the median income for the 2,871 households in Madison Park is only $76,042. We'd argue that this is a more representative way of looking at the affluence of the community. The median income number is the halfway point between the bottom 50% of households and the top 50%. The City's demographer, Diana Canzoneri, agrees that median income is the typical approach used when looking at income levels across population units.
Here's a look at how income is distributed in Madison Park, according to the Census estimates:
Almost one third of Madison Park households earns less than $50,000 per year while another third earns $125,000 or more. This is a much broader variation in income levels than might be suspected if one simply looks at the $151,000 average income number for the Park, which is obviously skewed by some very high income earners. Even so, it presents a much different picture from than that of Seattle as a whole:
A Madison Park household is almost twice as likely to have annual income of $125,000 or more than a Seattle household is. And when you get to the $200,000 income level and above (which is the highest category surveyed), the difference is even more striking:
That's right, more than one fifth of Madison Park households, according to the U.S. Census, have annual income at or above $200,000.
So yes, whatever way you look at it, Madison Park is definitely wealthy. But by no means is everyone who lives here in that category.