Educational Attainment in King County
Educational attainment is strongly correlated with wages and unemployment.
King County enjoys a reputation as one of the most educated regions in the United States, with 56.4% of King County residents age 25 or older holding a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2021.
Educational attainment is strongly correlated with wages. In King County, a bachelor’s degree holder can expect to earn more than twice that of a worker with only a high school diploma.
In the United States, higher educational attainment also correlates with lower rates of unemployment. 8.3% of workers over 25 years old with less than a high school diploma were unemployed in 2021, compared to 3.5% unemployment for workers holding bachelor’s degrees.
King County’s economy is growing rapidly in two areas: well-paying sectors requiring college degrees and very low-paying sectors requiring little education.
With local employment rapidly growing in well-paying sectors such as information and professional services, higher educational attainment is increasingly necessary for King County residents to participate and prosper in the changing economy. For example, in 1990 manufacturing comprised 17.7% of the total jobs in King County. By 2021, that share had dropped to 6.4%. The sector lost over 70,000 jobs in that time period – jobs that often pay high wages without requiring a college education. Over that same time period, the information and professional services sectors more than tripled their total jobs, and grew from a 9.0% combined share of King County employment in 1990 to 20% combined in 2021. The demand for educated workers in King County is projected to continue to grow into the next decade.
Rapid growth is also expected in sectors requiring little education, such as accommodation and food service. Unsurprisingly, these sectors provide very low average wages. The average annual wage for a food service worker in King County was $33,784 in 2021, while information workers enjoyed an average annual wage of $296,475.
King County is importing educated workers from elsewhere in the US and the world.
King County benefits from attracting highly educated citizens from elsewhere in the United States and the world to yield the impressive figure of 56.4% college educated. For King County residents over the age of 25, 71.9% were born outside of Washington State. Greater than 50% of these transplanted workers hold college degrees, as compared to 46.9% of Washington state natives residing in King County.
Recent in-migration patterns reveal that workers who have moved to King County in the last twelve months also hold degrees at higher rates than those who have been in the county for more than a year. In 2021, over 70% of residents who moved to King County from another state or country within the previous year held a bachelor’s degree or greater, compared to around half of workers already residing in King County. Essentially, King County is importing highly educated workers
Gaps in educational attainment by race/ethnicity are a challenge in King County, but national data show improvement.
There exist significant gaps in educational attainment by race or ethnicity. White and Asian residents of King County hold college degrees at rates of 59.2% and 67.2%, respectively, while only 28.5% of black and 30.7% of Hispanic residents hold a college degree.
The racial and ethnic disparity in educational attainment begins early, as it is reflected in local high school dropout rates. For the King County Class of 2020, 10.8% of black and 14.6% of Hispanic students dropped out during their high school years, compared to 5.7% of white students.
However, recent data reveals that on a national level, black students and particularly Hispanic students are enrolling in college at increasing rates. Between 1980 and 2020, college enrollment of Hispanic students as a share of total enrollment increased from 4% to 20%, while the share of black students increased from 9% to 13%.
Data for average wages, employment by sector, job growth by industry, and industry projections was taken from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
Data for educational attainment by place of birth, race/ethnicity, and new residents taken from the American Community Survey via the US Census Bureau.
Data for unemployment rates by education level taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey.
Data for dropout rates by race/ethnicity in King County taken from the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Data and charts for college enrollment by race/ethnicity taken from Pew Research Center.