King County’s population hasn’t just grown tremendously in number this decade — it’s also grown in diversity. That’s happened because the population of people of color has increased at a faster rate than the white population.
But last year, something new happened: The white population didn’t increase at all. In fact, it shrank.
According to census data released last month, between 2017 and 2018, the county’s white population declined by more than 4,000 people. True, that’s a tiny drop for a total white population of roughly 1.3 million — but looking at the pattern of growth over the course of the decade, it also seems like this could be the start of a trend.
At the beginning of the decade, from 2010 to 2011, the county’s white population increased by close to 12,000. Since then, the annual growth has been steadily slowing down, and showed a net gain of only about 3,000 between 2016 and 2017. But last year marked the first time this decade that white population growth moved into negative territory.
Even as the white population shrank, the county continued to grow last year, with a net population gain of about 29,000 people. The Asian population accounted for most of that growth, with an increase of 22,000 people.
The data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates program and is based on administrative records, such as birth and death certificates, and various other sources.
White people continue to be in the majority in King County, and now make up about 59% of the total population — but that’s down from 65% at the start of the decade. That six percentage-point drop is among the largest for big U.S. counties, nearly all of which have gotten less white this decade. Among the 100 largest counties in the U.S., only one was more white in 2018 than it was in 2010: Kings County, New York, also known as Brooklyn.
King County is also now slightly less white than the U.S. as whole, something which was not true in 2010. White people represent about 60% of the nation’s population in the newly released data.
Nationwide, as in King County, the white population has started to decline in number. Since peaking in 2016 around 198 million, the white population has dropped by about 250,000. This is happening in large part because of rising mortality rates and declining fertility rates. The white population is older than the other racial and ethnic groups, with a median age of 43.6 — that’s up by about a year and a half since 2010. Additionally, there has been a spike in deaths from drug or alcohol-induced causes, and from suicides. In 26 of the 50 states, there are now more deaths than births among white people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
That’s not the case in Washington or in King County. As of 2017, CDC data shows there were still slightly more white people being born than dying. King is, in fact, the only county in Western Washington where the white population declined last year. This suggests that either fewer white people are moving into the county, or a greater number are leaving — or both. The reasons behind that trend are not clear.
Like King County, all the other 38 Washington counties were less white in 2018 than they were in 2010, as the population of people of color increased at a faster rate than the white population. In Snohomish County, the white population has dropped from about 75% to 69% of the total, and in Pierce, from 65% to 59%.
The data makes clear that in the Seattle area, as in the United States as a whole, people of color are the driving force behind continued and future growth. As a mostly white population of seniors rapidly grows, people of color will make up an ever larger share of the working-age population.
The latest Census Bureau projections predict that the U.S. will become “minority white” in 2045. If the current trend continues, we’ll see this shift happen in King County sometime before that.
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