Seattle’s decade of mind-boggling growth ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.
OK, maybe “whimper” is overstating it, but population data for 2019 released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the city recorded its slowest growth rate of the decade last year.
From July 1, 2018, to July 1, 2019, Seattle had a net gain of about 11,400 people, reaching a total population of 753,700. That pencils out to a 1.5% growth rate, a far cry from the peak year of 2016 when we grew by 3.2%, and added more than 22,000 residents.
After six consecutive years in the top 2 for growth among the 50 most-populous U.S. cities — that includes a No. 1 showing in 2013 — Seattle dropped to sixth place in 2019.
For those Seattleites who feel the city’s been growing at much too fast a pace, this news should come as a welcome relief. For growth-loving urbanists, though, maybe it’s a bit of a downer.
Of course, the new census numbers capture a period before we were hit with the COVID-19 virus and the ensuing economic shutdown. We’ll have to wait until next year’s data release to see what kind of effect that crisis has had on the city’s growth.
Seattle is not the only city to see things cool off a bit in 2019. Census data shows that overall, growth is down sharply among major U.S. cities over the past couple years. This slowdown is evident in most of Seattle’s peer cities, including San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas.
The data suggests that the much-touted urban renaissance of the 2010s, which was fueled by a newfound love of city living among millennials and empty-nesters, could be waning. Most likely, the steep cost of living in these cities has made the higher growth rates unsustainable.
In 2019, Mesa, Arizona (population 518,000) ranked No. 1 for growth among the 50 most-populous U.S. cities, for the first time. It grew by 2%, which is a modest number compared with the top-ranking cities of previous years. In fact, Mesa is the slowest No. 1 of the decade.
In terms of numeric growth, another Arizona city holds the top spot: Phoenix, with a net increase of about 26,300 people. That brings the city’s total population to 1.68 million. The nation’s largest city, New York (population 8.34 million), had the biggest numeric decline in 2019, shrinking by 53,300.
Even if Seattle’s population growth last year was slightly anemic, we still amassed a net increase of 145,000 people over the course of the decade. That adds up to a remarkable 23.8% growth rate.
And with that, it’s official: Seattle ranks as the fastest-growing major city of the 2010s. We handily beat two Texas cities for that distinction — Fort Worth and Austin — which tied for second with 22.1% growth for the decade.
Seattle remains the 18th most-populous U.S. city, behind Indianapolis and ahead of Denver.
From 2010 to 2019, five major cities lost population. Detroit had the most dramatic decline, losing 6.1% of its population. The other cities are Baltimore, Milwaukee, Memphis and Chicago.
While Seattle’s growth is cooling off, Redmond’s is not. Last year, Microsoft’s hometown grew by a whopping 6.7%. That ranks Redmond as the 10th fastest-growing city in the country for 2019, among those with a population of 50,000 or higher.
Washington has 25 cities with a population of at least 50,000. Only three lost population last year, and all are in King County: Federal Way, Auburn and Burien.
Like Seattle, Bellevue’s rate of growth has slowed down recently. At just 0.7%, last year was just the first time this decade that King County’s second-largest city dipped below a 1% growth rate. Bellevue’s population stands at 148,200.
Seattle remains, of course, the state’s largest city. Spokane is still No. 2 in the state, and just slightly larger than Tacoma. Vancouver and Bellevue round out the top five, in that order.
Just as Seattle is perennially Washington’s biggest city, the state’s smallest town also has no real competition. But unlike Seattle, little Krupp in Grant County had something of a population boom in 2019. After plateauing at 50 for five consecutive years, the town’s population suddenly jumped to 52.
That’s a 4% rate of growth for the year, more than twice as high as Seattle’s.