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Thursday, July 9, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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114,000 more people: Seattle now decade’s fastest-growing big city in all of U.S.

Seattle moved into the top spot after registering yet another year of remarkable growth in 2017. The city’s population hit an estimated 725,000, gaining 17,500 people from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017. (Greg Gilbert / Seattle Times)
Seattle moved into the top spot after registering yet another year of remarkable growth in 2017. The city’s population hit an estimated 725,000, gaining 17,500 people from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017. (Greg Gilbert / Seattle Times)
By Gene Balk Seattle Times

Seattle has its critics. You’ve probably heard some fed-up folks grumbling about leaving the city — and now some businesses, too, in the fallout from our controversial new head tax on large companies.

But say what you will about Seattle, you can’t say that people don’t want to live here.

The U.S. Census Bureau released new population figures for U.S. cities on Thursday, and they show that Seattle has toppled Austin, Texas, to become the nation’s fastest-growing big city this decade.

Seattle moved into the top spot after registering yet another year of remarkable growth in 2017. The city’s population hit an estimated 725,000, gaining 17,500 people from July 1, 2016, to July 1, 2017. Our growth rate in that period — 2.5 percent — was second only to Atlanta among the 50 largest U.S. cities.

Seattle has now been ranked in the top 4 for growth among major cities for five consecutive years — quite an impressive run.

Add up all the population gains since 2010 and Seattle has grown by a staggering 18.7 percent, which ranks as the fastest rate of growth among the 50 largest U.S. cities. The Texas capital, which has seen growth cool down a bit recently, falls to second place.

Seattle No. 1 for growth this decade (Mark Nowlin / Seattle Times)
Seattle No. 1 for growth this decade (Mark Nowlin / Seattle Times)

If you’re among the tens of thousands of people who moved to Seattle some time after the start of this decade, all these construction cranes and the throngs of newcomers streaming into town must seem rather normal.

But here’s some perspective: Seattle’s population increased by 114,000 in the first seven years of this decade — that’s around the same amount it grew in the previous 30 years, back to 1980.

Seattle was the 18th-biggest city in the U.S. in 2017, unchanged from the year before. But we leapfrogged Los Angeles into the 9th spot for population density among the 50 largest cities in the country, now with more than 8,600 people per square mile. Seattle first entered the top 10 for density in 2014.

The city is still blowing away the suburbs when it comes to growth. Last year, Seattle once again grew faster than surrounding King County, something it’s done every year since 2011. In fact, for the second consecutive year, Seattle added more people in 2017 than all the King County suburbs combined. Excluding Seattle, the county grew by just about 15,000 people last year, for a growth rate of 1 percent.

San Antonio, Texas, which grew by 24,000 people last year, ranks No. 1 for numerical population growth among all U.S. cities. Seattle’s 17,500-person gain was the sixth largest numerical gain.

Seattle’s rate of growth last year — impressive as it was — represents a slight slowdown from 2016, when the city registered a record 3.1 percent increase. The majority of big U.S. cities also saw a slower pace of growth in 2017 than they did the year before. Miami, which ranked second behind Seattle in 2016, had the most dramatic decline. It’s rate of growth dropped by more than half. And for the first time this decade, Portland’s population increased by less than one percent.

Another trend emerging in the census data: An increasing number of big U.S. cities have lost population over the last few years. In 2012, the only major city with negative growth was Detroit. But last year, eight of the 50 largest cities shrank, with Baltimore registering the biggest decline.

In Washington, among the state’s 24 cities with at least 50,000 residents, Auburn and Redmond were the fastest-growing last year, tied at 3.1 percent. Bellevue grew by a healthy 2.3 percent, and Tacoma by 1.5 percent. Federal Way was the only city to lose population, showing a tiny decline of 0.1 percent.

Last year, when I wrote about the census population data, I wondered how long Seattle could maintain such a breakneck pace of growth. As it turns out, 2017 was another banner year. But will the head tax, or something else, finally have a cooling effect on growth in Seattle? See you back here next year.

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