For the second consecutive year, the number of driver's licenses issued to new King County residents from out of state declined.
Is this decade’s unprecedented Seattle boom in its final throes?
But we’re beginning to see signs of change.
Real-estate prices in King County dropped by more than $100,000 since last spring (though they recouped some of that loss with a strong February), and the number of homes sitting unsold has more than doubled in the past year.
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Amazon has, of course, been the prime driver behind Seattle’s recent growth. But just last month, the company announced it was backing out of its commitment to occupy a massive new development with its workers — even after the City Council repealed the new “head tax” so that they wouldn’t.
Here’s one more metric that suggests a slowdown is underway:
For the second consecutive year, the number of driver’s licenses issued to new King County residents from out of state declined, according to records from the Washington Department of Licensing.
It’s starting to look like 2016 was peak boom. That year, more than 76,000 licenses were issued to folks moving to the county from somewhere else in the U.S. or from another country. And, as I wrote at the time, it was the third consecutive record-breaking year for newcomers.
It seemed then like the numbers would keep going up and up. But in 2017, new licenses dropped down to about 72,000. Still an impressive number, and bigger than any other year beside 2016.
But then last year, we took an even bigger tumble, down to 65,000, which is similar to 2014 levels. While that’s still far above the historical average, it’s also down about 14 percent from the peak.
Pierce and Snohomish counties also experienced double-digit declines from their 2016 highs.
Looking at the top places for sending new residents to King County, the numbers have dropped across the board. In fact, of the 25 places that exported the most folks to us last year — that includes both U.S. states and a couple foreign countries — all of them have declined from 2016. Most of them are down by more than 100 movers.
Every year, California is far and away the top exporter of people to the Seattle area. Typically, one in five driver’s licenses issued to new King County residents are to people who’ve moved here from the Golden State. That was true again last year. California sent us more than 14,000 new neighbors — that’s a lot, to be sure, but it’s down by almost 2,000 from 2016, or about 12 percent.
Some of the top feeders of new residents to King County had even bigger declines, and a handful are down by 25 percent or more from 2016: Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Arizona, Montana and the nation of India. (China is down, too, by 23 percent.)
Remarkably, among all 49 U.S. states outside of Washington, there’s only one that sent more people to King County last year than it did in 2016: New Mexico, up by about 7 percent. Why is New Mexico the sole exception? Your guess is as good as mine.
Among foreign countries, most are down, but there are some exceptions, notably Japan, Brazil and Kenya. Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, is also up.
Is the slowdown in new arrivals just a temporary dip, or will it continue and even increase? We’ll have to wait and see, but new numbers from the Department of Licensing suggest the latter. In the first two months of this year, just over 8,000 new driver’s licenses were issued to folks who moved to King County from out of state. That’s the lowest number for the start of a year since 2013.
One caveat on the data from the Department of Licensing: It only includes people who apply for a Washington state driver’s license, so the numbers don’t capture folks who don’t drive, and, of course, children.