Washington Sees Big Shift in Who Moves to the State

Washington Sees Big Shift in Who Moves to the State

Gene Balk / The Seattle Times

For most of the 2010s, Washington was among the top states for attracting immigrants from other parts of the nation. Those days seem to be over.

Data released last week by the US Census Bureau show that Washington now has more people leaving than moving here. From July 1, 2021 to July 1, 2022, Washington had a net loss of about 3,600 people to other states.

Washington’s decline in internal migration this year isn’t exactly unprecedented. Technically, the state also lost population to other parts of the US last year, but the estimated net loss of 29 people from 2020 to 2021 was negligible. And this was also during the height of the pandemic, and I had wondered if the numbers would bounce back in 2022.

They didn’t. They fell even further, representing a significant demographic shift from the 2010s.

In the years before the pandemic, Washington was growing largely from internal migration. From 2015 to 2019, we had annual net gains of more than 35,000 people. In 2016, the peak year, about 68,000 more people moved to Washington than left.

The Sun Belt remains a magnet for household movements. Florida had the largest increase in people moving within the US, with a net gain of nearly 319,000. Texas was a distant No. 2 with 231,000, and North Carolina came in third with about 100,000. Idaho was the only state outside the Sun Belt in the top 10 for inward migration, gaining 28,600 people in 2022.

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau only provides figures for the net change from inward migration—we can’t tell from Washington’s loss of 3,600 whether that represents an increase in people leaving Washington or a decrease in the number moving in. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

The data also doesn’t show where people go when they leave Washington, or where they come from when they move here.

Although Washington lost people through internal migration, the state still gained population from the other two components of population change: natural growth and international migration.

Natural increase is the number of births minus the number of deaths. Washington had approximately 84,300 births and 70,800 deaths, for a net increase of about 13,500 residents. Many parts of the US have an aging population, and there were 24 states that had more deaths than births. Florida, a popular retirement destination and among the states with the highest median age, had the largest natural decline: 40,200 more deaths than births.

Washington also gained population through international migration, which more than rebounded after a sharp decline due to the pandemic. The state grew by 37,500 in international migration this year, surpassing the previous high of 33,100 in 2015. International migration fell to just 9,200 in 2021.

The three components of population change combine for a net increase of about 45,000 Washingtonians, or 0.6% growth for the year. Washington’s population is now 7,705,000 and remains the 13th most populous state. While Washington is no longer among the 10 fastest growing states in the US, ranking 16th this year, we easily beat the average US growth rate of 0.4%.

But Washington remains well below the growth rates we saw in the previous decade, during which there were several years when the state grew by more than 100,000 people.

The fastest growing state, for the first time since 1957, was Florida. Its population grew by 1.9% from 2021 to 2022. Idaho was second, at 1.8%, followed by South Carolina at 1.7%.

Numerically, Texas had the largest population increase at 471,000, beating No. 2 Florida, which grew by 417,000. North Carolina was a distant third with 133,000.

There were 18 states that lost population. New York had the largest decline, down 0.9%, followed by Illinois and Louisiana, both down 0.8%. New York also had the largest numerical decline at 180,000, followed by California (114,000) and Illinois (104,000).

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