Seattle added 11,440 residents in the year ended last July, faster growth than any other city outside the sunbelt, and enough to make Seattle America’s fastest growing large city since 2010. But that is still the fewest residents Seattle has added any year this decade, and a halving of the peak growth seen in 2016. Meanwhile, the Eastside has accelerated with more growth just as Seattle has been slowing. There’s been a shift too from King County to neighboring suburban counties. Seattle metro area growth has begun to resemble the more typical suburban pattern elsewhere in the country.
Redmond and Seattle lead
Seattle remains exceptional. The largest American cities are not, collectively, growing at all. The ten cities with more than one million population collectively lost residents in 2019. New York has 132 thousand fewer residents than at its 2016 peak. San Jose and Chicago also shrank last year; Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Dallas all saw fewer than 2,000 new residents each. The narrative of a broad return to large cities looked solid earlier in the decade, but has taken a beating in the last few years. American growth is once again mostly suburban. What you’ve experienced in Seattle this decade is not the norm, and Seattle is showing some evidence of the same shift to the suburbs.
The growth rankings for the decade show Redmond as the fastest growing local city (of those with at least 50 thousand residents). Seattle has outpaced every other significant city. Because it’s so much larger, Seattle has of course added the greatest number of residents.
The narrative around local growth has shifted in several important ways. More charts after the jump.
Eastside picks up, South King slows
Looking across King County, the last two years have seen a substantial shift to the Eastside (in this chart, the cities from Mercer Island to Issaquah to Bothell).
Data on local employment lags, but major Eastside firms are doing well and there’s a booming commercial development pipeline in Bellevue. Amazon, a key contributor to the Seattle boom, has shifted focus away from Seattle to Bellevue though it’s still adding employees in both cities. It’s likely the Eastside is adding jobs faster than Seattle.
South King County is hardly growing at all. This complicates any story about the local suburbanization of poverty. Renton, Burien, Federal Way, and Burien all lost population last year. If South King isn’t growing, where are the displaced being displaced to?
Neighboring counties outpacing King
National data suggests a turning point about 2016, when growth turned more suburban. This is mirrored in local patterns. King County led its suburban neighbors through 2015. Since then, it switched abruptly to being the slowest growing county. Meanwhile, large counties elsewhere in Washington state have seen continued rapid growth, with Spokane and Clark counties also adding residents at a faster pace.
Domestic migration, on-net, is outwards from King County
What’s behind King slowing relative to its neighbors? One clue is in the components of growth data. King County’s growth is much more dependent on immigration from overseas, and has relied much less on domestic immigration over the decade. Last year, that actually flipped negative, with more residents moving out of King County to other parts of the US than moving in.
That seems to be a trend of King County residents moving to other parts of the state, mostly nearby counties where housing is more affordable. We first noticed clues in the 2016 census. Applications in King County for new drivers licenses from out of state grew while net migration at the county level slowed. The numbers would differ when people are moving between counties within the state. As King County slowed that year, growth began to accelerate in more affordable housing markets in Snohomish and Pierce counties.