Gene Balk / Pour Info Guy / The Seattle Times
We’ve just had our first look at the demographics for 2021, and it shows Washington has seen steady growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. And despite speculation about an exodus from Seattle, the state’s largest city has also grown its population at a modest rate.
According to the Washington Office of Financial Management, the state’s total population reached 7,767,000 as of April 1, 2021, an increase of 110,700 people from the same date in 2020.
This represents a growth rate of 1.45% – not a record year, of course, but still respectable.
Almost every county in the state has seen growth and only one has seen a significant decline: Whitman, where the population has shrunk by nearly 5% this year. Whitman is home to Washington State University, and the decrease is certainly due to the number of students who have stayed at home because of the pandemic. The numbers should rebound as things return to normal.
The OFM initially estimated a much smaller increase of 61,600 people statewide due to births, deaths and net migration. However, the 2020 census data for resident population data showed a higher number, and the state adjusted its own estimates to take this into account. OFM added more than 49,000 residents to its estimate, bringing the total growth to 110,700.
Not surprisingly, there has been an increase in the number of deaths compared to previous years, which was surely due to COVID-19. About 61,100 Washingtonians have died during the period 2020 to 2021, the first time that number has exceeded 60,000.
The pandemic also had a negative impact on births, which was true across the country. There were 85,600 babies born statewide. This is comparable to the number for 2019-2020, which captured the first few months of the pandemic. But these numbers are the lowest we have seen since the period 2005-2006.
The number of births minus the number of deaths is called “natural increase,” and that really took a hit during the pandemic. For the period April 1, 2020 to April 1, 2021, Washington’s natural increase was only 24,500. You have to go back to 1975-1976 to find a lower number.
The OFM also estimated a sharp drop in population increase due to net migration, to less than half of what it was before the pandemic, at 37,100. It is possible, however, that this is where most of the underestimates occurred, compared to the 2020 census data.
Consistent with previous years, the Seattle metropolitan area, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, accounted for more than half (57%) of the state’s total growth, with nearly 63,000 people. And for the first time, our metropolitan area now exceeds 4 million inhabitants. Residents of our metro make up 52% of the state’s total population.
King County alone grew by 32,500, which is pretty close to the average annual growth of the 2010s. The county’s population is nearly 2.3 million.
What about Seattle? Much has been said about the urban exodus due to the pandemic and the rise of remote working. Despite this, Seattle’s population increased from April 1, 2020 to April 1, 2021, according to the OFM. The city grew by 8,400 residents, or 1.1%, bringing the total to 769,500. (It should be noted that this number is still slightly lower than the 2020 Census Bureau estimate for Seattle, which was 769. 700).
Granted, this is a modest increase in population from the boom of the 2010s. Some years Seattle has grown twice as much. However, we are far from an exodus.
Some small towns in Washington have grown much faster than Seattle this year, possibly benefiting from pandemic breakouts. In Clark County, north of Portland, the historic town of Ridgefield grew its population by 18% this year, making it the fastest growing place in the state. In Eastern King County, Black Diamond increased 15%.
Other cities in King County that have grown significantly faster than Seattle this year include Snoqualmie (5%), Newcastle (4.2%) and Maple Valley (3.5%).
In the past year, the state added 46,700 housing units (including 15,250 in King County). This is 2,350 less than over the 2019-2020 period. Of all new units built in the past year, 57% were multi-family.