Where do people go when they leave Seattle?

I recently wrote about survey data showing more than one in 10 Seattle-area households were planning to, or at least considering, relocating in the near future. Unfortunately, that survey didn’t address the question of where these folks were planning to go.

But there is some other data that can show us where people who left King County in recent years have moved.

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The data comes from the Census Bureau, which tracks the flow of movers between U.S. counties. Using this data, we can see how many people left King County each year, on average, and where they went. We can also see from this data how many people moved here, and where they came from.

The Census Bureau averages five years worth of data to generate a larger sample size, and the most recent data captures the period from 2016 to 2020 so, unfortunately, if the migration of patterns of King County expats has changed because of the pandemic, it mostly won’t be reflected in this data.

On average, about 127,000 people left King County each year during the 2016-2020 period. Many of them didn’t go too far away. About 47,000 of these movers — that’s close to 37% — went to a neighboring county: Snohomish, Pierce or Kitsap.

The number of King County expats who moved to Snohomish and Pierce counties annually was nearly equal — 21,800 and 21,400, respectively. These figures are roughly double the number of folks who make the opposite move, from Snohomish or Pierce into King. And, of course, you can chalk that difference up to home prices — you can get a lot more house for your money to the north or south of King County.

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Kitsap County averaged about 3,300 King County newcomers each year, also a much higher number than the 1,800 who moved in the opposite direction. The Bremerton area has attracted an increasing number of people from Seattle seeking more affordable home prices and rents.

After these three neighboring counties, the top recipient of King County movers was not in Washington. In fact, it was more than 1,000 miles away.

Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix, took in an average of 3,300 King County movers each year.

The Sunbelt, of course, is the fastest-growing part of the U.S. Clearly folks from the Seattle area are not immune to the appeal of year-round sunshine, high temperatures and a relatively low cost of living. Even so, the data shows 2,700 people moved in the opposite direction annually, from Maricopa to King.

After Maricopa, Los Angeles County was the top draw for those leaving King County, at about 2,900 per year. Unlike the other counties I’ve mentioned, Los Angeles lost more people to King than it gained, and by a wide margin. Around 5,200 Angelenos relocated to King County annual in this period.

Among out-of-state counties, Santa Clara in California, which includes the heart of Silicon Valley, ranked third, taking in 1,800 movers from King County each year. And like Los Angeles, Santa Clara had a net loss of movers to King. An average of 3,100 people from Santa Clara County relocated here each year.

King County largely attracted more people than it lost to counties that include big cities such as Chicago, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco.

But overall, King County lost more people than it gained to other U.S. counties in the 2016-2020 period. Annually, a total of 121,000 people moved to King from somewhere else in the U.S., compared with 127,000 who left. That pencils out to a net loss of more than 6,000 movers.