Seattle is once again the fastest-growing big city, census data shows

Originally published:
Gene Balk

Turns out, even a pandemic can’t keep Seattle down for long.

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the boom times aren’t over just yet: Seattle just reclaimed its title as the fastest-growing big city in the U.S.

From July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022, Seattle had a net gain of about 17,750 people, bringing the total population to 749,000. The city’s growth rate for the year pencils out to 2.4%, easily the fastest among the 50 largest U.S. cities. The rate of growth is quite comparable to what we saw in the 2010s.

This news may come as a surprise to some Seattleites. The Emerald City was hit hard by the pandemic, like many of the nation’s biggest cities. Last year, I wrote that Seattle had a net loss of about 4,300 people from 2020 to 2021, according census data. That figure actually underestimated the decline. The Census Bureau has since revised the number to a loss of about 9,000, which makes the strong growth from 2021 to 2022 all the more remarkable.

Also remarkable: All the fastest-growing big cities last year, with the exception of Seattle, were located in the Sun Belt. Fort Worth, Texas, was No. 2, with 2% growth. Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; and Jacksonville, Fla.; rounded out the top five. In fact, after Seattle, the next 15 fastest-growing big cities were all in the Sun Belt.

Twenty-one of the 50 largest cities lost population last year, including Portland, which shrank by about 8,000 people, a 1.3% decline. San Francisco, which had a massive 7% decline in 2021, shrank by a much more modest .3% last year.

New York, the nation’s largest city, experienced the biggest population decline in 2022 at 1.5%, a drop of about 123,000 people. But that was still less than half the population decline New York experienced the year before.

In terms of numeric growth, Seattle ranked fourth behind three larger Sun Belt cities. Fort Worth ranked No. 1 with a population increase of about 19,000, followed by Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Census Bureau’s annual population estimates are based on various administration data sources, such as tax returns, birth and death certificates and so on.

An interesting revelation in the new data: While Seattle grew last year, the rest of King County lost population.

Back in March, the Census Bureau released population data for U.S. counties, which showed that King County’s population had grown by about 13,750 from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022. Note that this is 4,000 fewer than Seattle’s 17,750-person growth last year.

And that can only mean one thing: Outside of Seattle, King County’s population declined by about 4,000.

While Seattle did grow at a faster rate than the rest of King County through much of the 2010s, I believe last year marks the first time that Seattle grew while the rest of the county shrank.

The data shows most of King County’s losses were in the South End. Federal Way, Renton, SeaTac, Des Moines, Auburn, Burien and Kent all lost population in 2022. On the Eastside, both Sammamish and Kirkland lost population. Redmond, which has been among the fastest-growing cities in the state in recent years, only increased by 0.4% in population last year.

But Bellevue had a strong growth rate of 2.0%, and Shoreline grew even faster, at 2.8%.

Among Washington cities with at least 50,000 residents, Bellingham had the fastest growth rate, at 4.2%.

As always, Seattle was Washington’s largest city in 2022, and Krupp in Grant County was its smallest. But little Krupp grew by an impressive 2.2% last year, increasing its population from 46 to 47.