A city of riches? Most Seattle filers make less than $50K, IRS data show

In an unprecedented analysis of IRS data, a local public-policy think tank determined that 51 percent of Seattle tax filers reported income of less than $50,000. And more than half of those folks make less than $25,000.

For all Seattle’s newfound affluence, there are still a whole lot of folks living paycheck to paycheck. That’s no surprise, of course — but here’s some new data that bring this economic reality into sharp focus.

Of the roughly 419,000 tax returns filed in 2014 by city residents, 214,000 — 51 percent — showed an adjusted gross income of less than $50,000.

And more than half of those folks are making less than $25,000.

About the data

“We are careful to make sure that people understand that this is an estimate,” said John Burbank, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI). “There are some caveats, but I don’t think any of them invalidate the numbers themselves.”

Here are those caveats:

• The most recent IRS data are for 2014, and we’ve experienced a rise in income since then.

The EOI calculations are based on adjusted gross income, while the tax measure that the Seattle City Council enacted used total income, which is about 2 percent higher.

• The IRS data are for ZIP codes, but a handful of them straddle Seattle and King County. The researchers weighted the ZIP codes accordingly to get numbers for just the city of Seattle.

• At the ZIP code level, the highest income threshold for IRS tax-return data is $200,000 and higher. But the Seattle income tax only kicks in at incomes of $250,000 for individuals, and $500,000 for married couples. The Seattle numbers above $200,000 were inputted from statewide IRS data, which have higher income thresholds.

The numbers come from a new analysis of IRS data by the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI), a liberal public-policy think tank based in Seattle. Researchers there used ZIP code-level tax-return data to create a breakdown of reported incomes for single and joint filers in Seattle, with some caveats.

Of those reporting income of less than $50,000, the overwhelmingly majority are single filers — a total of 187,000. Remarkably, that’s more than two-thirds of Seattle’s single population.

To be sure, a sizable chunk of these are likely seniors on a fixed income. Another group is college students who, if they earn a certain amount of money, are required to file. But even if you take these filers out…

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