Washington is still attracting new residents, just not as many as it did for several years running during the recession. The region’s population rose 89,000 over the year, bringing the total to more than 5.8 million. But the growth rate of 1.5 percent was down from 1.9 percent in the previous 12-month period, when the population rose by 105,000.
The region’s growth was eclipsed by spurts in parts of the country that had been focal points of the economic meltdown, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. Several cities in Texas experienced some of the fastest growth, which the Census Bureau attributed to the oil and gas boom.
Demographers said the 2012 population estimates confirm that it is the twilight hour of a remarkable phase in the Washington region. When the rest of the nation foundered in recession, federal spending helped keep the Washington area’s economy afloat. The population soared from 2007 to 2010, buoyed in large part by job seekers coming to the one major city in the country where jobs were readily available.
“One year, we were the only metro area in the entire country adding jobs,” said Lisa Sturtevant, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “If you were a college graduate looking for a job, Washington was the only game in town.”
Now, in the aftermath of the recession, more options are opening up elsewhere. Among the 15 largest metropolitan areas, Washington is in the bottom third for job growth, Sturtevant said.
“The economy is turning, and the housing market is back,” said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. “People are able to move to new jobs. Or if they’re staying at their old jobs, they can move to a new home they couldn’t afford before. What people used to think of as normal movement is coming back.”
An improved job market is luring Emily Bond and her husband from Manassas to Los Angeles. They moved here from Austin a year ago after he got a job with Prince William County. Emily Bond works part time writing defense contracts. Her husband has a new job with a film-production company in Los Angeles, so they are selling their furniture and leaving next weekend.
“There are a lot more jobs for people like us in L.A.,” she said.
The earliest signs of a slight slowdown in the Washington area’s population growth first appeared in 2011, when some of the region’s largest jurisdictions started losing more residents to other parts of the country than they gained from them. But what started as a trickle widened into a stream.
From July 2011 to last July, Alexandria and Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were all net losers in the exchange of residents with other parts of the United States. Their total populations increased, however, because of births and residents moving in from other countries, including immigrants, military personnel returning from overseas deployments and workers returning from positions abroad.