We’re growing. We’re growing quickly. We’re growing more diverse.
The Seattle region’s population boomed over the last 10 years, fueled by rapid growth in the Asian and Hispanic populations, according to new census data released Thursday.
The region’s growth was among the fastest in the nation. By one measure, Washington, led by the booming Puget Sound region, grew more diverse more quickly than any other state in the nation.
More than one-third of Washington is now non-white.
The trends here mirror national trends, with the nation’s growth fueled by growing diversity in urban areas, while huge swaths of rural America largely lost population.
The numbers released Thursday from the once-a-decade census that took place in 2020, gave the first look at detailed, county and city-level data and the first breakdown by race and ethnicity, showing how the country’s demographics have changed over the last 10 years.
The numbers will be used to draw congressional and legislative districts, enforce anti-discrimination laws and to apportion trillions of dollars of federal funding.
Everything from Medicaid to Pell Grants to community health centers and housing assistance depends on the census to help determine where federal funds should be sent for the next decade.
While Washington will not gain a congressional seat, it will redraw all 10 of its congressional districts and all 49 of its legislative districts based on the new data.
Seattle grew by more than 128,000 people since 2010, one of 14 American cities that grew by at least 100,000. Seattle has 737,015 people as of census day, April 1, 2020, a 21% increase from 2010.
King County gained more than 338,000 people over the last 10 years, with a total population of 2,269,675. Only four other counties in the country saw population increases of more than 300,000 people.
That growth was highlighted by diversity — the non-Hispanic white share of the population in King County dropped more than 10 percentage points from 2010, while the Asian share of the population increased by more than 5 percentage points to 19.8%. The Black and Hispanic shares of King County’s population both grew by a bit more than 1 percentage point.
The Seattle metropolitan area, which includes all of Pierce, King and Snohomish counties, was the 15th largest in the nation, with a total population of 4,018,762.
Kent, in South King County, was one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the country. Each of the 10 fastest-growing cities grew by at least 44% from 2010 to 2020, the Census Bureau said. Part of Kent’s population gain is due to the annexation of the Panther Lake area, which happened shortly after the 2010 census.
On a broad level, the data showed the country gaining in population in its largest metro areas, while rural areas generally saw their populations shrink.
Collectively, the country’s largest counties — those with more than 100,000 people — grew by an average 9.1% from 2010 to 2020. Counties with fewer than 10,000 people, on average, lost population.
In Washington, only tiny Ferry and Columbia counties, with populations under 10,000, lost people, while every other county gained population or held steady. King County grew by 17.5%, Snohomish by 16.1% and Pierce by 15.8%.
The data also show the country growing more diverse.
“The U.S. population is much more multiracial and more racially and ethnically diverse than what we measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, director of race and ethnic research and outreach in the Census Bureau’s Population Division.
Washington is 63.8% non-Hispanic white, down from 72.5% in 2010. That decrease in the white share of the population, 8.7 percentage points, is the largest of any state in the country.
Washington is 13.7% Hispanic or Latino, up from 11.2% in 2010. It is 9.4% Asian, up from 7.1% in 2010. And Washington’s Black population grew from 3.4% to 3.8%.
Three counties, Yakima, Franklin and Adams, are majority Hispanic or Latino, while every other county remains majority white.
In Snohomish County, the Asian population became the second most prevalent, with 12.2%, up from 8.8%. The Hispanic population also grew, from 9% of the population in 2010, to 11.6% in 2020, but not as quickly as the Asian population.
Kamau Chege, director of the Washington Community Alliance, ran a coalition last year that worked to ensure communities of color were counted in the census.
“This is the final defeat for the Trump administration’s campaign to erase immigrants and communities of color from our democracy,” Chege said. “The higher-than-estimated numbers broken down by race validate our 2020 census campaign.”
The Trump administration had sought, unsuccessfully, to add a citizenship question to the census and then sought to use other government records to, for the first time ever, exclude undocumented residents from the congressional counts. If successful, the effort could have shifted both political power and trillions of dollars in federal aid to whiter, likely more conservative areas.
Chege noted that while Washington is 36.2% people of color, its voting districts don’t necessarily reflect that. Only 1 out of 10 congressional districts has a voting-eligible population that is majority people of color, and only 1 out of 49 legislative districts.
“One of the things the census highlights is the need to look at whether our political systems are actually representative of who we are,” Chege said.
In the last decade, Hispanics have become the largest racial or ethnic group in Yakima County, now with 50.7% of the population, up from 45% in 2010.
Lina Alvarez, vice chair of the state Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said she isn’t surprised. A financial adviser and child of Mexican immigrants, she grew up in Yakima, lived there until moving to Southwest Washington in 2012 and maintains close ties to the area. She said she saw such an uptick in numbers that she thought Latinos had become the majority some time ago, and sees Mexican American-owned businesses all over town.
“We are optimistic this data will somehow translate into us having better political representation,” said Dulce Gutiérrez, a former Yakima city council member who now works for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
And although Hispanics now comprise a majority in several counties east of the Cascades, they still don’t match the raw numbers of the Seattle region. King County has nearly twice as many Hispanics as Yakima, roughly 243,000 compared to 130,000.
The data “definitely shows a significant increase in the Asian population in King and Snohomish counties or for that matter overall in the United States,” said Lalita Uppala, executive director of Indian American Community Services, based in Redmond. She attributed the rise to the boom of tech employees and a large number of service workers who cater to them, including restaurant staff, cab drivers and yard workers.
And concerns remain over how much the Trump’s push for a separate count of undocumented immigrants may have held down response rates.
Uppala’s organization was among scores of groups in Washington who worked hard to get people to participate in the census. But she said that work was hampered by the “twin pandemics” of COVID-19 and racism. Many immigrants, she said, were uncomfortable about declaring they were foreign born.
Trump’s push to both keep undocumented immigrants out of census counts and to stick to the census’s original schedule despite months of COVID-related counting delays, caused broad unease and anxiety, as well as a flurry of lawsuits from Washington cities, counties, tribes and community groups.
While the new data showing a more diverse-than-ever region, state and country may somewhat assuage those fears, it will take weeks of analysis to get a fuller picture.
“There has been a lot of speculation about the data quality and the accuracy of this census,” said Mike Mohrman, of Washington’s Office of Financial Management. “There will be more information on accuracy coming out in the next few weeks.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Manuel Villa contributed to this report.