Region added 36,000 people last year

Growth rate is similar to the years after the Great Recession

Wait—there was growth during the pandemic? Yes, the central Puget Sound region continued to grow last year, reaching a total population of 4.3 million.

From April 1, 2020 to April 1, 2021, the four-county region added 36,000 people—enough to fill about half of Husky Stadium. That’s similar to growth levels the region experienced while recovering from the Great Recession.

The findings are reported in PSRC’s newest Puget Sound Trend.

In the first year of the pandemic, all four of the region’s counties continued to gain some population but at a significantly slower pace than during the preceding year.

King and Pierce counties saw the most dramatic declines in growth rates, with levels falling off by more than half. King County grew by just 17,375 from April 1, 2020 to April 1, 2021. By comparison, the prior year’s growth was 41,920. Pierce County added 7,070, down from the 14,625 the year before.

The slowdown in Kitsap and Snohomish counties was more modest. Kitsap County grew by 2,090, compared to 3,270 the previous year. Snohomish County added 9,845 after gaining 13,540 the prior year.

While PSRC’s analysis found that all four counties in the region grew last year, a recent article in The Seattle Times showed King County losing population.

What gives?

PSRC used estimates from the Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM) for this analysis, while The Seattle Times used Census Bureau estimates. The Census Bureau showed the four-county region having negative net migration (that is, more people moving out than moving in) between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021.

In a nutshell, OFM and the Census Bureau used similar but distinct methodologies. Both agencies grappled with an array of technical challenges posed by the pandemic.

City Trends

Last year, following the release of redistricting data from the 2020 Census, we reported in our last Trend on cities with the highest nominal and percentage growth over the last decade.

Many of the same cities are on this year’s list of the top 10 cities with the greatest nominal growth (2020-2021) such as Seattle, Kent, Auburn, Bellevue and Kirkland.

Everett, Lake Stevens and Bonney Lake—each of which grew by more than 1,000 residents over the last year—are new to the list, as are Arlington and Edgewood.

Seven of the cities on the list have designated regional growth centers and/or high-capacity transit station areas, which are places that are planning to accommodate a substantial share of the region’s future growth per the VISION 2050 regional growth strategy.

Black Diamond sits at the top of the list of fastest-growing places by percentage growth. The King County city swelled by 13% in just one year due to new development occurring in its Ten Trails master planned community.

Pandemic-Related Migration

There’s been a lot of talk about remote workers leaving Seattle during the pandemic.

While OFM’s population estimates can’t directly tell us about migration patterns between Seattle and other communities, they do tell us that Seattle continued to grow by about 5,400 net residents during the first year of the pandemic.

PSRC looked at Seattle’s overall share of population growth in King County and the region to see if more growth is happening outside of Seattle as a result of pandemic-driven outmigration trends.

The verdict is unclear.

There wasn’t a sharp drop-off in Seattle’s growth between the year before the pandemic compared to the first year of the pandemic.

Seattle’s share of King County’s population growth in the first year of the pandemic (31%), in fact, shows no change from the preceding year, while the city’s share of regional growth dropped modestly from 18% (2019-20) to 15% (2020-21).

The city’s share of growth did show a more noticeable decline since the two years before the pandemic hit (2018-19), which suggests that outmigration trends may be attributable in part to other longer term factors such as the high cost of housing. Vacated homes seem to have been filled by new residents moving to, as well as within, Seattle.

In a nutshell, we can’t say for sure that people aren’t leaving Seattle, but the data suggests that the scale of the movement may be more limited than thought.

Read the full report in this Trend.

OFM is set to release its 2022 population estimates for cities, towns and counties in July, which will provide another opportunity to gauge the impact of the pandemic on regional growth trends