Seattle, the fastest-growing big city of the last decade, is now losing population.
The Census Bureau released population data Thursday for all U.S. cities, towns and places. It shows that from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021, at the peak of the pandemic, Seattle had a net loss of nearly 4,300 people, which represents a decline of 0.6%.
The city’s population now stands just shy of 734,000, and Seattle remains the 18th most-populous city in the nation. The last time Seattle’s population declined was between 2002 and 2003, when the city lost a modest 200 people.
It’s strange feeling for me to write about Seattle losing population. I’ve covered these Census Bureau releases in my column since 2013, when Seattle suddenly became the fastest-growing big city in the nation. For six consecutive years, Seattle ranked in the top 2 for the rate of growth. And in the 2019 to 2020 period, before the effects of the pandemic were captured in the data, Seattle was No. 1 again.
Even so, I was sure this news was coming. In March, the Census Bureau released population figures for U.S. counties, and it showed that King County had its first population decline in nearly 50 years. The county lost around 20,000 people from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021, but the data didn’t tell us how much of the loss came from Seattle. Now, with this new data release, we know it was about 4,300.
The new Census Bureau release doesn’t include any data on what caused population changes, such as changes in domestic and international migration, or in the number of births and deaths. But we do have that information for each county, and it shows that more people left King County than moved in, and that migration from other countries greatly reduced from the pre-pandemic period. The number of births declined and the number of deaths increased, which was surely due in part to COVID-19.
Seattle was hardly alone among major U.S. cities in losing population during this period. Even before the pandemic took hold, growth in many cities was slowing in recent years. In the period from 2019 to 2020, 15 of the largest U.S. cities lost population. The new data shows 32 shrank from 2020 to 2021.
Seattle’s drop in population was relatively small. Many of our “peer” cities had even larger declines, including Portland, Denver, Boston and Washington, D.C. And San Francisco was in a league of its own, losing an astonishing 6.4% of its population (a decline of close to 50,000 people). New York had the biggest numeric loss at 305,000.
The big city with the fastest growth was Fort Worth, at 1.4%. Another Texas city, San Antonio, had the largest numeric growth, increasing by about 13,600.
Not including Seattle, King County shrank by a little more than 1% — nearly twice Seattle’s rate of 0.6%. Indeed, a number of King County cities had significant declines in population last year. Bellevue shrank by about 2,400, a loss of 1.6%. Kent, Federal Way and Renton all had population losses of more than 1,500.
Even so, the state’s fastest-growing city, among those with at least 50,000 people, was also in King County.
Redmond increased its population by about 2,900, an impressive 4% growth rate. Microsoft’s hometown has been among the fastest-growing cities in the state for several years. In fact, in 2019, Redmond ranked as the 10th-fastest-growing city in the nation, among those with at least 50,000 people. In the new data, Redmond’s ranked 25th in the nation.
Among Washington’s small cities and towns, the fastest growing was also in King County. Black Diamond, about 30 miles southeast of Seattle, grew by 20% in 2021, an increase of nearly 1,000 people. 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.
The other larger cities in Seattle’s metro area, Tacoma and Everett, both had small population declines.
Elsewhere in Washington, the larger cities of Spokane and Vancouver had modest growth. Spokane Valley grew by a healthy 2%, and in doing so surpassed Renton as the eighth-most-populous city in Washington.
Just as Seattle is perennially Washington’s biggest city, the state’s smallest town also has no real competition. The population of Krupp in Grant County was 47 last year, unchanged from 2020.