While I greatly appreciate Nina Shapiro’s front-page story in The Seattle Times on Amazon’s impacts on the city, I disagree with her coverage of the company’s impact on diversity in Seattle; in fact, her reporting contradicts two other statistical reports from the Times’ stats expert Gene Balk.
Her story focused on Amazon’s self-reported worldwide workforce diversity — 37 percent female, 60 percent white — and reports on Seattle’s supposedly increasing diversity to 34 percent people of color. She also focused on a city map showing increasing diversity in the North End from 2000 to 2010. A number of things are wrong with this.
First, Amazon’s global workforce is over 183,000 while its local force is only 24,000. 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 release of gender and minority workforce data for its technology and Seattle workforces, even as Microsoft has done this along with Google, Facebook and Apple.
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.” And it continues, “Last year, Amazon reported that just 4 percent of its managers were African American.”
The 2000-2010 city map doesn’t reflect the majority of Amazon’s growth impact on the city, which occurred since 2011 (Amazon’s Seattle workforce has nearly quintupled from 5,200 in 2010 to over 24,000 in 2015). However, it does show the already radical gentrification of most of South Seattle — up 26.2 percent.
Amazon is just making things worse. How much worse? In October 2014, Balk reported that the city is whiter than in 2010, growing to 67 percent white from 65.2 percent: “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 20 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, among other cities, after finding city housing unaffordable (it also missed highlighting how unaffordable housing in Seattle has become for average residents who make much less than these Amazon employees).
Balk also reported, “it’s no surprise the growth in our white population skews to men, who number 5,800 more than women since 2010.”
The 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 4,386 labor condition applications for H1B visa and 1,371 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.
I emailed Ms. Shapiro about these issues and asked her if she’d be willing to file an update about it. She declined. 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.
Jeff Reifman is a writer and activist residing in the Pacific Northwest. For non-Amazon options on everything from groceries to selling your stuff, go to fleethejungle.com or visit