Seattle drops out of Top 10 for growth among largest U.S. cities


Seattle was the nation’s fastest-growing big city of the 2010s. New data shows we’re not even in the Top 10 anymore.

From July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023, Seattle’s population increased by around 5,900, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. That pencils out to a growth rate of 0.8%. For many cities, that would be considered a respectable number. For Seattle, it looks a little anemic compared with the previous decade, when we were consistently growing well over 2% year after year.

With that modest increase in population, Seattle ranked as the 13th fastest-growing city among the 50 largest in the U.S. Seattle remained the 18th most-populous city in the nation, with around 755,100 residents.

Atlanta took the top spot, growing by 2.4% last year, followed by Fort Worth at 2.2% and Raleigh at 1.9%. Florida had three cities in the Top 10 — Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa — more than any other state.

All but one of the 10 fastest-growing cities were in the Sunbelt. The one exception was Washington, D.C., which grew by 1.2% and ranked ninth. Last year, nine of the 10 fastest-growing cities were also in the Sunbelt, but the exception was Seattle.

Texas dominated the list of cities with the largest numeric growth, including No. 1 San Antonio, which added nearly 22,000 people. Seattle ranked 21st for numeric growth.

The past few years have been a topsy-turvy ride for Seattle when it comes to growth.

After the boom decade of the 2010s, Seattle lost population as the pandemic took hold. Census data initially showed a decline of about 4,300 people from 2020 to 2021 — and that decline has since been revised by the Census Bureau to 8,800. The drop in population wasn’t a huge surprise, given the circumstances.

But the next year, Seattle rebounded in remarkable fashion. From 2021 to 2022, the city was once again the fastest growing in the nation, adding nearly 18,000 people for a growth rate of 2.4%. It seemed like 2020-2021 might have been just a blip, and things were going back to normal.

The new numbers call that into question.

Unfortunately, the census data doesn’t provide the components of population change for cities — in other words, we don’t know how much of Seattle’s growth was due to domestic migration, international migration and “natural” change (births minus deaths).

At least we’re not losing people. Among the 50 largest cities, 15 lost population last year, and two had zero growth rates. Philadelphia experienced the biggest decline, losing 1%, followed by New York at 0.9% and Memphis at 0.8%. These numbers aren’t that bad compared with the 2021-22 period, when six large cities lost more than 1% of their population.

Here’s an interesting side note to Seattle’s growth numbers: In March, I reported on census data showing King County had grown by about 6,100 people from 2022 to 2023. The new data shows Seattle alone grew by about 5,900 people. That means Seattle accounted for nearly all of King County’s growth last year.

That said, there are a few smaller King County cities that grew a lot faster than Seattle last year.

Redmond has been among the fastest-growing cities in the state in recent years, and that continued in the 2022-2023 period. Microsoft’s hometown increased its population by about 3,600, for a growth rate of 4.7%. The increase brings Redmond’s population to a little over 80,000.

SeaTac grew nearly as fast as Redmond, gaining close to 1,300 people for a growth rate of 4.2%. That brought SeaTac’s population to 31,800.

Shoreline also stood out, gaining around 1,700 residents for a growth rate of 2.8%. Shoreline’s population hit nearly 61,400 last year.

But many of King County’s biggest cities lost population. Bellevue shrank by more than 1,000 residents, down 0.8%. Auburn and Sammamish both shrank by more than 1%. Other cities with population declines include Issaquah, Renton, Kent, Burien and Federal Way.

As always, Seattle was Washington’s largest city, and Krupp in Grant County was its smallest. Little Krupp had a rough year, recording the sharpest population decline of any city or town in the state. From 2022-2023, its population fell from 48 to 47, a drop of around 2%.

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