North county cities use demographics to better serve community

As the population throughout the greater Puget Sound region continues to grow, cities in North King County are looking beyond the numbers to see not just how many people are living in their communities, but who.

On June 7, the North Urban Human Services Alliance (NUSHA) shared some of this information with the community with a presentation at Kenmore City Hall, featuring Chandler Felt.

As a demographer for King County, Felt shared information about the population of the northern part of the county — which is made up of Kenmore, Bothell, Shoreline, Lake Forest Park and Woodinville.

“We’re more interesting and more diverse than the nation as a whole,” he told the audience about the region.

Felt discussed King County as a whole as well as the northern region, noting that the information about Bothell was only about the portion of the city in King County and did not include the portion that is in Snohomish County.

In addition to gathering information from the decennial census — which is taken every 10 years — and the American Community Survey (ACS) — which gathers information more frequently — Felt told attendees last week that he also uses information from local school districts. In North King County, those are the Northshore and Shoreline school districts.

From 2000 to 2016, Felt said King County gained about 360,000 persons and the population is now more than 2 million people. And of this growth, about half is foreign-born, with people coming from a variety of countries.

“Immigrants are coming from literally all over the world,” Felt said, noting that there has been a steady, but small portion of refugees from East Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East in King County — most of whom are in South King County — and he suspects they will soon see more refugees coming from Syria soon.

In North King County, he said the cities have gained about 13,000 people during those 16 years and almost all of the growth has been people of color.

The diversity throughout the county is best reflected in the youth, as about half of population younger than 18 is made up of people of color.

With so many people from so many different places, this leads to a lot of languages spoken in King County. Felt said about 25 percent of the population countywide speaks another language and about half of that number struggles with English.

There are about 170 different languages spoken in King County and Kristina Logsdon, chief of staff for county council member Rod Dembowski, said this has led council to pass legislation to provide voting materials in additional languages to allow people with limited English proficiency to still exercise their right to vote.

As of 2016, King County’s voting materials are produced in English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Spanish.

Logsdon added that they plan to revisit things every five years to see if other languages should be added to the list.

In addition to the county’s racial and ethnic makeup, Felt also discussed the area’s breakdown by age, noting that the in North King County, most of the growth has been in the older age groups. Although, there has been some growth in Kenmore and Bothell in the younger populations, which one audience member said could be due to more affordable housing compared to surrounding areas.

Felt also noted that in this part of the county, poverty has been increasing among kids and seniors.

“We all have our work cut out,” he said about addressing these issues.

NUSHA treasurer Rob Beem, who spoke briefly while introducing Felt at last week’s event, said knowing who lives in their cities is important when it comes to making decisions regarding resource allocations and human services.

“I think it’s really important to understand who we are,” said Beem, who works for the City of Shoreline.

NUSHA board member Phillipa Kassover, who is also a member of the Lake Forest Park City Council, agreed. She said as someone who helps create policy and make funding decisions for human services, knowing who lives in her city helps her make better decisions.

Kassover added that while the cities in North King County may have this information, NUSHA also wanted to share it with the public because other organizations and agencies should know as much about the communities they are serving as possible.

She said while groups may know about the populations they are serving, they may not know about the populations they are not serving and demographics information could help them see who they should also be reaching out to.