If you’re one of those folks who say Seattle is dying, you’ll find data showing a shrinking population to back you up. But if you’re a Seattle booster who thinks the boom times haven’t ended, you’ll find data showing continued growth.

How can that be?

Recent census data, which I’ve reported on in my column, showed both Seattle and King County had a slight loss of population from 2020 to 2021, but data from the Washington Office of Financial Management (OFM), which I’ve also written about, showed modest growth in both the county and Seattle.

Both the federal and state governments produce annual population data for Washington’s cities and counties. Typically, these numbers are in close agreement.

Lately, though, there’s been a discrepancy.

Gene Balk 0423672351 0435169664

More

It’s occurred to me that by reporting on these conflicting data, I may have confused some of my readers. So let’s take a look at what might have happened.

Something to always keep in mind with population estimates is that they are just that — estimates. They’re not exact numbers. Only the decennial census, like the one in 2020, is meant to be a precise head count, and even that isn’t perfect.

The Census Bureau and OFM also have differences in methodology. Their annual estimates are never exactly the same, although they are typically close (and note that the Census Bureau produces population estimates for July 1 each year, while OFM’s are for April 1.)

Advertising

Another important point is that the past couple of years have been anything but ordinary. The difficulties of record-keeping during the pandemic could certainly help explain why the Census Bureau and OFM saw our local population trending in different directions, according to Mike Mohrman, an OFM senior forecast analyst.

“As you know, a lot of data collection was disrupted by the pandemic, not only the 2020 census itself but school data, drivers data and other data collections were disrupted,” Mohrman said in an email. “This is an especially difficult time for those of us in this line of work.”

And even though data from the Census Bureau and OFM showed population trending in opposite directions, the actual difference between their 2021 estimates isn’t really that big.

OFM showed Seattle’s population at 742,000 and the Census Bureau’s number was 734,000 — a difference of only about 8,000. The two agencies’ estimates for King County were different by about 35,000, which isn’t so huge considering the total population was nearly 2.3 million last year.

The two agencies are on different timetables in releasing their population data. The Census Bureau has a greater lag time — their 2021 figures came out only this spring — while OFM just released its 2022 estimates last week.

The new OFM data shows growth has picked up steam as we emerge from the pandemic.

Advertising

King County grew by around 30,000 from April 1, 2021 to April 1, 2022, and the population passed the 2.3 million mark. Most of the county’s growth was in Seattle, which is a similar pattern to what we saw in the 2010s, when Seattle grew at a much faster rate than the suburbs.

Seattle’s population hit 762,500 in 2022, up around 20,000 from the year before. That’s an increase of 2.7%, which isn’t so far off from the impressive growth rates we saw in the boom era of the 2010s.

In comparison, King County (not including Seattle) grew by only around 10,500 residents, or a .7% increase.

The primary engine of growth in King County was migration, with about 22,000 more people moving in than moving away in the one-year period. OFM’s data also shows roughly 23,500 births and 15,000 deaths in King County, for what’s called a “natural increase” of close to 8,300.

Among King County cities with at least 5,000 residents, the strongest growth was in Black Diamond, up 15.5%. Black Diamond is home to a large new master-planned community called Ten Trails, which is being built in phases. This community, which opened in 2018, will eventually include roughly 6,000 homes, bringing more than 15,000 people to Black Diamond.

Only two King County cities declined (slightly) in population: Lake Forest Park and SeaTac.

The Census Bureau has not yet released its 2022 population estimate for cities and counties, and those numbers won’t be out until next year. We’ll have to wait to find out if they confirm that growth in Seattle and King County has rebounded.