Progress or problem? Seattle’s population keeps growing, but the growth has slowed

May 18, 2024, 11:59 PM | Updated: May 19, 2024, 1:20 pm

Image: The Space Needle stands over the Seattle skyline on March 13, 2022 in Seattle....

The Space Needle stands over the Seattle skyline on March 13, 2022 in Seattle. (Photo: John Moore, Getty Images)

(Photo: John Moore, Getty Images)

The population of Seattle has continued to grow, but it isn’t growing nearly as quickly as it did during previous years, according to numbers released by the United States Census Bureau this week.

Seattle’s population grew by nearly 6,000 people from 749,134 to 755,078, or about 0.8%, between July 2022 and July 2023. (The Census Bureau’s annual estimates of the resident population for incorporated places of 20,000 or more can be viewed as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet here.)

But as The Seattle Times explained in its coverage, that 0.8% growth ranks Seattle 13th for growth among the United States’ Top 50 cities. Geekwire noted the same statistic but focused on cities with a population of over 250,000. The Census Bureau data shows 91 U.S. cities have populations that high.

The development comes just a year after the state of Washington’s largest city grew about 2.4%, between July 2021 and July 2022. That ranked Seattle No. 1 overall, a whopping 0.4% ahead of Fort Worth, Texas, the Times noted in 2023. It was also more in line with what Seattle saw through much of the 2010s.

Ursula Reutin in 2023: Seattle isn’t dying, it’s the fastest-growing big city in US

Seattle’s growth may have slowed, but this is the second consecutive year the city has gained population. Between 2020 and 2021 — the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when many cities reported losing people to smaller places– the population dropped nearly 9,000 people (740,565 to 731,757) or about 1.2%.

Also, as the Times stated, Seattle is continuing to gain people while 15 of the top 50 cities overall are losing people. That includes the three largest cities: New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. Philadelphia, the city ranked No. 6 for total population, lost more than 1% of its population. New York City’s population loss wasn’t as high percentage-wise as Philadelphia’s, but it did lose nearly 77,800 people between 2022 and 2023.

Portland, Oregon, also lost people during that time period. The city’s population dropped from 634,668 to 630,498, or a loss of 0.67%.

Seattle’s population of 755,078 makes it the 18th most populous city for at least the fourth consecutive year and, barring a significant population boom or bust in the near future, appears poised to stay in that spot. San Francisco sits at No. 17 with 808,988 people, nearly 54,000 more than Seattle. Meanwhile, Denver is at No. 19 with 716,577 or a hair above 38,500 fewer residents than Seattle.

What does the Seattle population change mean?

What Seattle’s population change means likely depends on who is providing the analysis or opinion. Geekwire‘s coverage described Seattle as a city transformed by the tech industry that experienced major population growth between 2010 and 2020, before the pandemic. Then it added the recent tech downturn resulted in job cuts at Amazon and various other tech companies throughout the region. Is the slower growth a harbinger of things to come?

That said, Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times exclaimed “Hooray for us!” in a recent column, saying Seattle is doing just fine, particularly since other West Coast cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, California and Portland have all seen their populations shrink since 2020.

It’s rather that Seattle finds itself in an unusual spot. For the first time in ages, we are neither boom nor bust. Seattle has instead made a steady, restrained recovery from the pandemic, one that is unique among West Coast cities.”

Some additional Washington population numbers

The top 15 cities by population in the state of Washington all gained or lost people between July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023. However, none gained or lost any more than 1.2% of their previous number.

Spokane remains Washington’s second largest city by population, but it did dip 0.4% losing just shy of 1,000 people (230,405 to 229,447) between 2022 and 2023.

Meanwhile, Tacoma, still at No. 3 by largest population in Washington is hot on Spokane’s tail as its population grew 0.5% from 221,731 to 222,906. Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma remain the only three cities in the state with more than 200,000 people. Nine Washington cities have populations over 100,000.

Vancouver, the fourth largest city by population, saw the biggest jump of the state’s top 15 cities, jumping 1% from 194,500 to 196,442.

Bellevue comes in at No. 5 again but saw a notable 0.8% loss in population between 2022 and 2023. That city’s 2022 number was 152,745 and its 2023 number was 151,574.

Eight of Washington’s top 15 cities by population gained people during that time period. Those were Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver, Spokane Valley, Renton, Bellingham, Kirkland and Kennewick. The seven that lost people were Spokane, Bellevue, Kent, Everett, Federal Way, Yakima and Auburn. The city of Auburn’s population fell by 1.2% from 84,855 to 83,870.

In another notable development, the Census Bureau called out Bothell in its primary press release reporting the estimated population numbers as one of five U.S. cities that reached 50,000 people between 2022 and 2023. Bothell’s population is at 50,213 after sitting at 49,030 previously. That 1,183 population growth is a significant 2.4% jump, which is what Atlanta saw as the No. 1 large city in terms of percentage growth in the U.S.

Overall, Washington’s total population rose by 0.4%.

Some other notable federal numbers

Large cities in the Northeast and Midwest grew in 2023, reversing earlier population drops, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s press release.

Cities with populations of 50,000 or more grew by an average of 0.2% in the Northeast and 0.1% in the Midwest after declining an average of 0.3% and 0.2%, respectively, in 2022. Those in the West went up by an average of 0.2% from 2022 to 2023. Cities in the South grew the fastest – by an average of 1.0%.

“The population growth across the South in 2023 was driven by significant numeric and percentage gains among its cities,” said Crystal Delbé, a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Population Division said in the Census Bureau’s press statement. “Thirteen of the 15 fastest-growing cities were in the South, with eight in Texas alone.”

More US numbers: South dominates US population gains as deaths drop

Finishing No. 1 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more is Celina, Texas, which is near Dallas. That city’s population grew by 26.6%, more than 53 times that of the U.S. growth rate of 0.5%, the agency stated.

Also in Texas, San Antonio added more people than any other city in 2023 — about 22,000 total. That allowed the city to reclaim the top spot on the list of gaining cities. The leap pushes it close to the 1.5 million population milestone.

Steve Coogan is the lead editor of MyNorthwest. You can read more of his stories here. Follow Steve on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email him here.

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Progress or problem? Seattle’s population keeps growing, but the growth has slowed