Washington got its family portrait on Wednesday – the one the U.S. Census Bureau takes every 10 years – and it left some people smiling, some people puzzling and a lot of people needing time to digest the numbers.
There are more than 6.7 million of us now. And the picture shows more faces of color in more places as the state becomes an increasingly diverse melting pot.
And not surprisingly, the bulk of the roughly 830,000 residents who came to Washington over the last decade plunked themselves down along the Interstate-5 corridor from Vancouver to Bellingham.
In the South Sound, both Pierce and Thurston counties grew, though not by as much or as fast as King and Snohomish to the north. By numerical increase in residents, Pierce came in third; Thurston landed sixth, below Clark and Spokane counties.
And as far as bragging rights and psychological numbers milestones, both Tacoma and Pierce County lost ground, in a manner of speaking.
Tacoma, which has claimed a population over 200,000 since 2007 and flirted with Spokane for second-most-populous-city rights, found out Wednesday that it actually had a population of 198,397 as of last April 1. It’s still third in Washington and its population did grow, but only by 2.5 percent, a rate slower than other major cities in the state.
Pierce County’s population is 795,225, according to the census, more than 19,000 fewer than the most recent estimate from the state Office of Financial Management. But it grew, too, some 13.5 percent in the last decade.
The numbers will be used by state and local redistricting commissions to redraw the political maps that determine the lines of congressional, legislative and council districts. Based on its growth, Washington gained a 10th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. There’s money riding on the numbers, too, in terms of federal and state aid and allocations based on population.
“Growth is generally good for the area,” said Bruce Mann, a professor of economics at the University of Puget Sound. “More people, more skills, more ideas, more diversity. Over the long haul, those are the kinds of things that bring more dynamism, more vibrancy and new ideas to an area.”
THE CENSUS COUNTS
The hard-count census numbers will replace the state Office of Financial Management estimates for 2010. The OFM numbers, based on building permits, household size and occupancy and other data and calculated using a complex formula, help direct where state dollars go, including such things as who gets what share of liquor and other taxes doled out by population formulas.
Every 10 years, the census gives OFM a reckoning point for its annual estimates.
Wednesday, population forecaster Yi Zhao and other number-crunchers at the state were already combing through the figures and evaluating data, she said.
Officials in Tacoma and Pierce County pointed out that OFM numbers are generally within a few percentage points of census figures. Though the difference between the two – minus 5,803 in Tacoma and minus 19,375 in Pierce County – might affect some funds, they’re not game changers.
But they could cause Tacoma to lose, for example, some revenue from the state’s liquor sales and perhaps cost the city some crime-prevention dollars.
“We’ll definitely have to spend some time trying to read between the lines” to learn what the new census figures mean to Tacoma, city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said.
“We’ve thought for a few years from the OFM numbers that we were over 200,000, so it’s definitely a surprise that we’re below 200,000. Obviously, we’d love to have 200,000. We’re planning for more than 200,000. We expect that we’ll get there. We’re just a little disappointed that we’re not there now.”
The city did, however, grow by 4,841 over its count in 2000 of 193,556.
Among nuggets gleaned from the figures released by the Census Bureau Wednesday:
Overall, the state logged a population of 6,724,540 as of the April 1, 2010, census count. That’s up 14.1 percent.
37 of the state’s 39 counties gained residents; only Pacific to the west and Garfield to the east did not.
Pierce County added 94,405 residents during the decade, boosting its population to 795,225, a 13.4 percent increase. Much of that growth came in the county’s eastern reaches, including Bonney Lake (up 79.4 percent) and Orting (up 79.4 percent). Closer to I-5, once-tiny Fife burgeoned 91.7 percent, from 4,784 souls in 2000 to 9,173 last year. And DuPont grew and grew as hammers rang out at the Northwest Landing and Patriot’s Landing housing developments. Its population was up 234 percent, from 2,452 to 8,199. (City growth includes annexation.)
Thurston County added 44,909 people for a 2010 population of 252,264, up 22 percent. Lacey alone posted a 35.8 percent population gain.
In South King County, Federal Way grew by 7 percent, but fell from seventh to 11th among the state’s largest cities. Auburn, with population in King and Pierce counties, now ranks 14th in the state, up from 18th, thanks to largely annexation-driven growth.
Overall, nearly 5 percent of Washingtonians claim two or more races as their heritage. Just over 7 percent of us are Asian; 1.5 percent Native American; 3.6 percent black.
Statewide, Hispanics/Latinos are the fastest growing racial/ethnic minority. They now comprise 11.2 percent of the state population and outnumber any other minority group. This segment of the population grew 71 percent in the last 10 years. (The census doesn’t consider Hispanic/Latino to be a racial group, but an ethnicity. Most Hispanics mark themselves as “white” under the racial category.)
In Pierce County, Hispanics are now the largest minority group – surging from 5.5 percent to 9.2 percent of the population over the decade.
Washington’s agricultural fields and restaurant trade are magnets for many Latinos who come north from Mexico and Central America “looking for a better life,” said Jose Vasquez, a psychologist who has worked with Centro Latino in Tacoma. Many come north to join families already in the Puget Sound area, he added.
“A country is based on diversity, and that diversity is important,” he said. “You have to look around. Suddenly you see a little restaurant selling tacos and then you see a little market. They are businesses that contribute to our economy.”
The census does not ask whether a resident is a citizen or has legal status.
One of the changes we’ll likely see in more urban, diverse counties as the result of growing minority populations is voting materials and election assistance in multiple languages.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson already expects she’ll be offering election services in Spanish and possibly Korean for the 2012 presidential election. A decision on that, made by the Department of Justice using a complex formula, won’t be made until later this year.