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Washington population growth continues to slow


OLYMPIA – The 2009 population estimate, prepared annually by the Office of Financial Management, places Washington state's population at 6,668,200 as of April 1, 2009. This represents growth of 80,600, or 1.2 percent, over the last year, compared to the most recent annual growth peak of 1.9 percent in 2006.

Migration is an important component of our state's growth, and is largely driven by employment opportunities. While Washington remains more economically attractive than California, Oregon and many other states, population gains due to migration have dropped from 81,000 in 2006 to 58,000 in 2008 and 39,000 for 2009, according to Theresa Lowe, the state's chief demographer.

State population and migration continue to slow in 2009
State population and migration continue to slow in 2009

“The continued housing contraction nationwide and poor economic conditions appear to be limiting the mobility of the population usually influenced by labor market opportunities,” Lowe said. “Many job seekers are finding it difficult to sell their homes or to relocate to accept employment at the price of paying two mortgages for an extended period.”

Basic market forces throughout the United States have also reduced immigration, and have resulted in many resident and situational immigrants returning home. Washington has relatively large Hispanic and Asian populations, ranking seventh among the states in the number of Asians and 13th in the number of Hispanic/Latinos. The large in and out flows associated with these populations are affected by present economic conditions, another factor resulting in the slowdown of state growth.

The annual population determinations by OFM are based on actual change in school enrollment, housing, voters, driver's licenses and other indicator data, and are used to distribute revenues to local governments for public services and transportation. These annual figures are also used to develop and validate population forecasts, which help to anticipate changes in population-driven budget expenditures.

Several indicators of population change, including driver's licenses and housing, reflect the slowdown. Net driver's migration can be obtained from out-of-state driver's licenses that are surrendered to obtain a Washington driver's license, less Washington licenses surrendered in other states. These driver's data, however, would tend to overstate net in movements in the current picture because they don't fully account for Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and other international movements.

Net driver's licenses surrendered in Washington
Net driver's licenses surrendered in Washington

The economy of a populous neighbor, such as California, has considerable effect on Washington's growth. Driver's license data indicate that over time, California contributes the largest share, from 40 percent to 50 percent, of the net movement into Washington from other states. The current 12-month license total of in-movers from California is 26,400 licenses. This compares to 38,000 in 2006 and a peak of about 40,000 licenses from California in the early 1990s.

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

Annual housing growth at the state level slowed from the most recent peak of 50,900 in 2006, to 31,779 in 2009. The declines by county have varied, with King County showing the most stability.

Top Five Counties in Housing Growth
Top Five Counties in Housing Growth

Seattle's housing growth from new constructions clearly tops all other cities throughout the state. Many cities gain most of their population through annexation.

Top Five Cities in Housing Growth
(Excludes Annexed Housing Units)
Top Five Cities in Housing Growth (Excludes Annexed Housing Units)

OFM's annual population determinations provide information on growth statewide. The census 2000 population counts mark the baseline for tracking a new decade of population change for the state's cities and counties. The majority of growth since 2000 remains concentrated in Western Washington, with the largest nine-year gains being 172,254 in King County, 112,782 in Pierce County, 98,276 in Snohomish County, and 85,962 in Clark County.

The fastest growing counties, in terms of percent change since the 2000 census, are Franklin (47.3 percent), Clark (24.9 percent), Thurston (20.5 percent), and Kittitas (19.6 percent).

The population of Washington's cities and towns totaled 4,115,700 on April 1, 2009, a growth of more than half a million people since the 2000 census count. Annexations and incorporations account for about one-third of this increase. In 2006, a new statute approved a sales-tax sharing plan to reimburse cities in some counties annexing parcels containing large populations.

There have been no new incorporations since the Spokane Valley incorporation in March 2003.

Information on OFM's April 1, 2009, population estimates for cities, towns, and counties is available at