New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that non-Hispanic whites have declined as a percentage of the population in all 39 counties in Washington.
Diversity isn’t just a big-city thing anymore.
New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that small-town Washington — from Ocean Shores to Spokane Valley and everywhere in between — is becoming less white.
Since the start of the decade, non-Hispanic whites have declined as a percentage of the population in all 39 counties in Washington. In King County and six others, the white population dropped by at least 3 percentage points in the past five years.
Overall, whites now make up 69.8 percent of the state population, down from 72.6 percent in 2010.
Even with the decline, Washington’s ranking as the 27th whitest state hasn’t change since 2010. That’s because this demographic trend is happening everywhere in America.
The white population here grew, but at the slowest rate — about 2 percent. The Asian, Pacific Islander, Latino, multiracial and black populations all had double-digit increases.
Washington added more than 425,000 residents from 2010 to 2015, and people of color account for nearly three-quarters of that. Latinos made the largest population gains statewide of any group — an increase of about 117,000.
Yi Zhao, Washington’s official demographer, says immigration is no longer driving the growth in the Latino population like it was in the 1990s and early 2000s.
“For this decade — especially since the recession — we’ve seen a tremendous slowdown of immigrants from Mexico and South American countries,” Zhao said.
“But this group of people tends to have a higher fertility rate than any other ethnic group. … I bet most of the growth in the Hispanic population right now is the birth. So there’s a shift.”
Indeed, the census data show the state’s Latino population is very young, with a median age of 24.7. Even younger are multiracial people — now nearly 5 percent of the population — with a median age of just 20.2 years.
The white population, on the other hand, is aging fast, with by far the oldest median age of any racial group in the state: 42.8 years.
Here in King County, Asians — not Hispanics — increased in number far more than any other group. Asians now make up nearly 17 percent of King’s population, easily the highest percentage of any county in the state.
“King County is always the hub for immigrants, and Asians in particular. That has been the tradition,” Zhao said. “I’m expecting that trend to continue for the next decade or two.”
Immigrants from Asia fall into several categories, she says: Some are highly educated professionals coming here for work on an H-1B visa, or students attending a college or university.
Others emigrate to join relatives who’ve already settled in Washington, though there is a cap for that of about 10,000 each year for the state.
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“For King County, in particular, the largest proportion of people joining their families come from Asian countries,” Zhao said, “especially the Philippines, India, Vietnam and China.”
About half the migration into Washington is from within the United States, and that is mostly from the Western states, she said.
In Adams County, the white population declined by nearly 4 percentage points, the biggest drop in the state. It is — along with Yakima and Franklin — one of Washington’s “minority majority” counties. All three have agriculture-based economies and are heavily Latino.
Lincoln County, just to the west of Spokane, is the state’s whitest county — about 92 percent. But even it has become more racially diverse than it was five years ago. In this sparsely populated area, the white population declined by 452, while every other group increased in number.
This statewide trend does have one notable exception. Since 2010, census data show a slight uptick in the percentage of whites in Seattle — the fifth-whitest big city in the nation.