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Washington area population rises faster than other regions

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By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New census statistics released Tuesday show that the Washington region's population has continued to grow at a brisk pace since the onset of the economic downturn, another indicator that the area has weathered the recession better than other parts of the country.

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In the two years preceding July 1, 2009, the region added 163,000 people, bringing the total to almost 5.5 million residents -- a growth rate of about 3 percent that is faster than that of any other Eastern Seaboard city. Metropolitan New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore all grew by less than 1 percent during the same period, and the Boston area's population increased by about 2 percent.

The two-year period encompasses a year and a half of the recession, which officially began in December 2007.

While the Washington area has shed jobs, it has lost far fewer than other metropolitan areas, said John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. The region was down 29,000 jobs in January, compared with January 2008. During the same time, New York lost 224,000 jobs, Boston lost 62,000, and Baltimore was down 35,000 positions.

"It's got to be people moving here for jobs," McClain said of the population jump. "We are the healthiest economy of the whole country, in terms of how we have fared during the recession, relative to jobs."

The increase also reflects a weakened economy in which fewer people move elsewhere in search of better jobs or a new lifestyle. William H, Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, said the bursting of the housing bubble in Sunbelt states, such as Nevada, California, Florida and Arizona, has sharply cut into the number of people moving there from other states. Many areas that had been losing residents have noticed a slowdown in the number who move away.

"We have this standing still," Frey said. "The 2010 Census will show a snapshot of America stuck in place."

The new population estimates for 2009 are based on the head count of the 2000 Census and updated annually using administrative records, such as births and deaths. The data show the total U.S. population is 307 million, up 5.4 million in the past two years, or an increase of just under 2 percent.

The Census Bureau released the latest figures as the nation is in the midst of the 2010 Census, taken once every 10 years. The initial results for the decennial count are expected in December, when the Census Bureau must give the White House a report that will determine which states gain or lose representatives in Congress, based on population changes.

In the Washington area, much of the growth is happening in Virginia. Loudoun County is the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation, with 301,000 residents -- a rise of almost 78 percent since 2000 and more than 8 percent in the past two years alone. Four other Virginia counties have growth rates that place them among the top 100: King George, Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania. No Maryland counties are among the fastest-growing.

Fairfax County is the largest jurisdiction in the area, with 1.04 million residents, followed by Montgomery County with 972,000 and Prince George's County with 835,00.

The statistics show that the District was just a few hundred people short of 600,000 residents, last year, reflecting an increase of almost 5 percent over the previous decade.

Every county and independent city in the region has added residents in the past two years, though the biggest rates of increase were not in the largest jurisdictions. Both the city of Alexandria and Arlington County grew by almost 7 percent, and the population in Prince William County was up 5 percent.

morelloc@washpost.com


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