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Washington population growth remains slow

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — June 30, 2010

OLYMPIA – The 2010 population estimate prepared annually by the Office of Financial Management places Washington state’s population at 6,733,250 as of April 1, 2010. This represents an increase of 65,050 persons, or a growth rate of 0.98 percent since last year.

The annual population determinations by OFM are based on actual change in school enrollment, housing, voters, driver’s licenses and other indicator data. They are used to distribute revenues to local governments for public services as well as to develop and validate forecasts for population-driven budget expenditures.

The severity of the 2008 financial crisis and the crash of the housing market continue to keep many Americans in place. Washington’s population gain due to migration is estimated to be 26,000. This is 13,000 lower than the 2009 estimate of 39,000, and is significantly down from the decade’s highest estimate of 81,000 in 2006, according to Yi Zhao, the state’s chief demographer.

State population and migration continue to slow in 2010
State population and migration continue to slow in 2010

The net drivers’ migration is obtained by subtracting Washington driver licenses surrendered in other states from licenses surrendered in Washington. The analysis of the drivers’ migration flows indicates a slowdown of net migration for the past three years.

“Driver’s license data need to be interpreted with caution because they do not fully capture migration dynamics due to inconsistent data reporting, nationally and internationally,” Zhao said. “Overall, the data overstate migration into the state.”

Net driver licenses surrendered in Washington
Net driver licenses surrendered in Washington

Despite the fact that our economy is still doing better than that in neighboring states, Washington has lost some of its population drawing and holding power. Important migration pulling factors such as employment and financial opportunities are somewhat limited. In addition, loss of housing value or housing related debt has made migration unappealing to many people. California, one of the main contributors to Washington’s net migration, has experienced a significant decline in its out-migration. This decline has had a considerable effect on Washington’s population growth. Driver’s license data indicate that over time, 40 to 50 percent of the net movement into Washington comes from California. The current 12-month license total of in-movers from California is 23,700 licenses. This is down by 10 percent from 26,400 last year and 38 percent as compared to 38,000 in 2006.

California and Oregon are the leading contributors to Washington’s migration
California and Oregon are the leading contributors to Washington’s migration

The decline in net migration is not just the result of the decreased mobility in the United States. It is also related to a decline in international migration. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey single-year data on foreign-born population indicates significant decreases every year since 2006. Washington has relatively large Asian and Hispanic populations, ranking 7th and 13th, respectively, in the Census Bureau’s 2009 estimates. The migration flows associated with these populations are affected by present economic conditions and are a contributing factor to the slowdown in state population growth.

Large metropolitan areas tend to attract interstate and international migrants and lose families to surrounding suburbs. Over the past couple of years, fewer migrants, as compared to earlier in the decade, have moved from King County to other Washington counties. With a larger job market and diverse industry base, Seattle is functioning as a magnet for population growth for the time being.

Comparison of population change by area
Comparison of population change by area

The amount of change by county has varied. The majority of growth since 2000 remains concentrated in Western Washington. King County shows the most stability over the decade, with the largest 10-year gain being 196,400. Pierce County is in 2nd place with 113,800, followed by Snohomish County with 105,100 and Clark County with 90,400. The fastest-growing counties in terms of percent change since the 2000 census are Franklin (53.0 percent), Clark (26.2 percent), Thurston (21.7 percent), Kittitas (21.4 percent), and Benton (21.4 percent).

Housing starts, another important indicator of population change, are slowing in most counties. The state added 28,200 new units, a 45 percent decrease from the most recent peak of 50,900 in 2006.

Top 5 counties in housing growth
Top 5 counties in housing growth

Seattle’s housing growth from newly completed constructions clearly tops all other cities in the state. Many of Seattle’s new units are in large multi-unit structures whose construction began before the housing market collapsed. Survey evidence indicates high vacancy rates in these new buildings.

Top 5 cities in housing growth (excludes annexed housing units)
Top 5 cities in housing growth (excludes annexed housing units)

The population of Washington’s cities and towns totaled 4,196,962 on April 1, 2010, a growth of 677,400 people since the 2000 census count. Many cities gain most of their population through annexation. Annexations and incorporations account for more than one-third of this increase. In 2006, a statute (RCW 82.14.415) allowed a sales-tax sharing plan to reimburse cities in some counties for annexing parcels containing large populations. Since its inception, five cities in King and Snohomish counties have taken advantage of the legislation and annexed some 72,934 people under the new law.

OFM’s annual population determinations always benchmark on the decennial census. Calendar year 2010 marks the end of the decade of population and housing estimates based on Census 2000. The 2010 census is in progress and results will be available starting February 2011. OFM’s official April 1, 2010, estimates are interim numbers and will be replaced by the 2010 census counts as soon as they are released to the state.

Information on OFM’s April 1, 2010, population estimates for cities, towns, and counties is available at www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/april1/default.asp.

Contact:  Yi Zhao, Office of Financial Management, 360-902-0592