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D.C. Down, Va., Md. Up in Census Estimates

City Disputes Drop Of 4,097 in One Year

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page B01

The number of people estimated to live in the District dropped slightly in the 12 months that ended in July, according to a report released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau, while the estimated population of Maryland and Virginia increased.

District officials bristled at the Census Bureau's announcement that population in the nation's capital declined by 4,097 people -- from 557,620 in 2003 to 553,523 in 2004. The agency overestimated the District's population loss throughout the 1990s and then adjusted the city's population from 519,000 to 572,059 after the 2000 Census. Since then, the annual reports have said that the population was holding steady or declining a bit.

By the Numbers

Washington, D.C., population estimates

July 1, 2003: 557,620

July 1, 2004: 553,523

Net change: -4,097 (decrease of 0.7 percent)

Maryland population estimates

July 1, 2003: 5,512,310

July 1, 2004: 5,558,058

Net change: 45,748 (increase of 0.8 percent)

Virginia population estimates

July 1, 2003: 7,365,284

July 1 2004: 7,459,827

Net change: 94,543 (increase of 1.3 percent)

SOURCE: Census Bureau

_____Census 2000_____
Full Report: Explore growth trends of the Washington region.

This year's estimate, based on income tax filings, birth and death records and immigration trends, suggests a 0. 7 percent loss at a time when the D.C. real estate market is booming and the city's combined public and charter school population seems stable. City officials are two years into a 10-year campaign to attract 100,000 new residents.

"There have been more housing units built in the last four years than in the entire decade of the 1990s," said Barry Miller, the District's associate director of comprehensive planning. "We see a lot of positive indicators. We may not see the kinds of increases that we'd like to see, but we're not seeing the declines, either."

Census officials acknowledged that their annual report is not as precise as the population count they conduct once a decade. But they said they work hard to track births, deaths, internal migration and movement from one state to another and believe that their estimates are in the ballpark.

"The method's not perfect," said bureau analyst Matt Christensen. "The perfect method would be to do a census every year."

Demographers said this year's decrease -- about half of what the Census Bureau believes the District lost each year in the mid-1990s -- was not large enough to be cause for alarm. They estimate that the city lost 7,000 residents from 2002 to 2003.

Officials note that the housing boom is not necessarily inconsistent with population loss, because many new households are made up of singles or childless couples, and those leaving the city are more likely to be families with children -- including poorer families with several children who are priced out as neighborhoods gentrify.

"It's also important to know the kind of tax base that you're generating. That might be more important than whether your population is growing," said William H. Frey, a University of Michigan demographer and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

There was another story in Virginia, the Census Bureau said, identifying it as the nation's 11th-fastest-growing state from July 2003 to July 2004. The report said Virginia boosted its estimated population by 94,543, to 7,459,827 -- a growth rate of 1.3 percent.

Maryland also grew, but at a slower rate than in recent years, adding an estimated 45,748 people, compared with about 70,000 people the year before.

Nevada remained the fastest-growing state in the nation for the 18th year in a row. The bureau's ranking of the 10 fastest-growing states includes four other western states -- Arizona, Idaho, Utah and New Mexico -- and five southern or coastal states: Florida, Georgia, Texas, Delaware and North Carolina.

North Carolina and New Mexico replaced California and Hawaii on the list of the fastest-growing states.

The U.S. population grew an estimated 1 percent, to 293.7 million, according to estimates. More than a third of the nation's residents live in the South, 23 percent are in the West, 22 percent in the Midwest and 19 percent in the Northeast.

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