Several factors contributed to the nationwide population losses, but the rise of remote work probably had the most profound impact. It freed up many workers to live farther away from urban employment hubs.
But new data shows that even if a greater number of people have recently left Seattle, the pandemic didn’t stop new folks from moving here.
In 2021, there was basically no change in the number of people who moved to Seattle compared with 2019, according to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey.
The data shows roughly 65,000 people residing in Seattle in 2021 had lived somewhere other than King County one year earlier. The Census Bureau data for 2019 shows roughly the same number — around 62,000 — had moved into town sometime within the past 12 months.
Seattle benefited from a strong economy and job market, of course, but this data also suggests the city didn’t lose its shine for many people from out of town during the pandemic.
Of those new arrivals to Seattle, more than half — about 37,000 — came from another state. An additional 16,000 came from somewhere in Washington outside of King County, and around 11,000 moved from abroad. All these numbers are similar to those from 2019.
The data shows there were also about 115,000 Seattle residents in 2021 who moved from within King County in the past year. Again, that’s roughly the same as the estimated 113,000 intracounty movers living in Seattle in 2019. (Unfortunately, the Census Bureau does not separate those who moved within Seattle from those who moved into the city from somewhere else in King County).
But there is one figure that does show significant change from 2019: The number of Seattleites who stayed put. In 2021, there were around 548,000 city dwellers who hadn’t moved in the past year. That’s down from 572,000 nonmovers in 2019 — a decline of around 24,000.
And that would account for the city’s overall drop in population from 2019 to 2021. The decline in the number of Seattle residents who’d already been living in the city for at least one year suggests that the pandemic did cause a spike in people moving away. Fortunately, the flow of people moving into the city remained strong in 2021, minimizing the population decline.
The data shows around half of the newcomers to Seattle from outside of King County were white and half were people of color. Most were young adults — 63% were between 20 and 34 years old — and among those 15 and older, roughly 80% were unmarried. More than 70% of new arrivals lived in a rental unit.
It’s also worth noting that data from the Washington Office of Financial Management, which also produces population estimates, conflicts with census data, something that rarely happens. While the Census Bureau data shows a small decline in Seattle’s population from 2020 to 2021, the state’s numbers show a slight increase in the city’s population. The Census Bureau and OFM have differences in methodology, and it’s worth noting pandemic-related record-keeping difficulties could help explain the discrepancy.
Data on movers to Seattle for 2020 isn’t available, unfortunately. The Census Bureau did not release an American Community Survey for 2020, citing difficulties with data collection due to the pandemic.