For much of the postwar period, the small city of Tukwila, located in King County along Seattle’s southern border, was home to thousands of workers from the nearby Boeing plant, the Port of Seattle and the related warehouse industry. Workers and their families occupied modest single-family homes and small, garden-style apartment buildings characteristic of the era and the working/middle-class incomes those jobs paid.

Over the last two decades, Tukwila has transformed demographically and economically. Waves of refugees have resettled in the city, including Bosnians and Serbs in the 1990s, Somalis and Sudanese in the 2000s, and Bhutanese and Nepalese after that. Throughout, Latinos have migrated to the area from Mexico and other parts of Central America for work, some on a seasonal basis from farms in eastern Washington. And in recent years, local observers note that in-migration from popularizing neighborhoods in South Seattle has accelerated, particularly among black families.

Tukwila has been a migration magnet for a number of reasons. Its aging and diverse housing stock and plentiful rental options make housing more affordable than in Seattle or the region as a whole. Proximity to employment hubs like the Port of Seattle and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport remains an asset in a region where the bulk of jobs continue to move away from downtown. At the same time that these attributes have drawn low-income families and individuals to the city, long-term residents have also found themselves struggling to get by. Half of Tukwila’s workers hold jobs in retail, hospitality and food service, warehousing, construction, and other services— industries that not only consist of lower-paying jobs but also were hit hard in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Changes in Tukwila have brought with them a special set of challenges, particularly in the schools. Targets under No Child Left Behind have proven difficult to achieve with students new to the United States who possess almost no English language skills, not to mention limited literacy in their home countries’ languages. High levels of family mobility in a tight housing market disrupt learning for students and their classrooms. Parents from outside the U.S. often have no history of engaging directly with their children’s teachers to ensure their needs are being met. And these special problems layer on top of the larger economic challenges facing local families—including inadequate access to jobs, low income, poor nutrition and health—that complicate the educational picture for children.

Recently, Tukwila and other school districts in South King County have come together with the Seattle Public Schools in a unique collaborative to reduce achievement gaps and prepare all children for college and careers. Read more about it in our profile of The Road Map Project.



  • Tukwila’s poverty rate jumped from 13 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2006–10
  • In the span of three years, suburban King County’s unemployment rate rose from less than 4 percent in 2007 to almost 10 percent in 2010—outpacing nearby Seattle.