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As a suburb, Clark County is typically inferior to that big city across the Columbia River — at least numerically. We’ve got fewer people, fewer jobs, fewer vegan restaurants, fewer lines in front of those restaurants and no claim to fame for our naked bike rides or monstrous bookstores.

But last year, Clark County gained more people than Multnomah County, Ore.

Clark County grew by 9,095 people in 2017, an increase of 1.95 percent, according to newly released estimates from the U.S. Census. Multnomah County, Portland’s home county, gained 6,016 people. Most of the growth comes from people moving to the metro area rather than natural increase (births outnumbering deaths).

“That’s actually not surprising,” said Nick Chun, manager of the Oregon Forecast Program at Portland State University’s Population Research Center. “All the projections have Clark County growing the fastest out of the seven counties.”

Since 2014, he said, Clark County has captured between a fifth and a fourth of the Portland area’s net in-migration. Many of our newcomers are families with children.

He said Clark County is expected to continue growing at a healthy clip. While there are different narratives people use for why that is happening, Chun said it’s partly due to people living in Vancouver and commuting to Portland. He expects Clark County to “capture a stable, if not increasing share,” of the metropolitan statistical area’s population.

What’s more, our more rural neighbors to the north and east, Cowlitz and Skamania counties, both grew by more than 2 percent between 2016 and 2017. Skamania has an estimated 11,837 residents and Cowlitz 106,910. Last year, Clark and Skamania were the fastest-growing among the seven counties comprising the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore., metropolitan area.

At an estimated 474,643 people last year, Clark County’s population is inching closer to the half-million mark. On the opposite side of the state, Spokane County’s population grew from 497,437 in 2016 to 506,152 in 2017.

If Clark County keeps growing at such a fast pace, our population will surpass 500,000 by the 2020 Census. (It happened in Spokane. It could happen here, too.) Until the Census does its decennial survey of households in 2020, all population figures are estimates.

Our population growth, however, is small compared to other areas in the region and across the country. Overall, Washington gained nearly 125,000 people last year, more than half in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area — the sixth-largest numeric increase among metro areas in the country. Much of that population growth was within Seattle city limits.

Its neighbors in the Puget Sound area saw a lot of growth, too. Pierce and Snohomish counties gained 17,012 and 14,687 people, respectively. The more rural Kittitas County, home to Ellensburg, grew by 2.84 percent, making it the fastest-growing county in the state, according to the Census.

Popular road-trip destinations the Bend-Redmond, Ore., area and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, were the fourth- and fifth-fastest growing metro areas nationwide. Prineville, Ore., about an hour outside of Bend, was the fourth fastest-growing U.S. micropolitan area, which is defined as a growing area removed from a larger city.

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Nationwide, a lot of growth is happening in the Southwest, such as Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas) and Maricopa County, Ariz. (Phoenix.) And Texas keeps getting bigger, particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Census controversy

The upcoming constitutionally mandated count has been fraught with controversy and concerns that the Census will be underfunded and unprepared to conduct an accurate count in 2020. The census director resigned in June and has not been replaced, and several tests have been canceled for the count, which will be primarily online for the first time. The Trump administration has been criticized as politicizing the count.

As reported by national news outlets earlier this week, the Department of Justice and Trump’s re-election campaign want to put a citizenship question on the Census. Questions are due to Congress by March 31. Nineteen attorneys general, including Washington’s Bob Ferguson, wrote a letter to oppose adding the citizenship question to the Census, particularly so late in the planning process, saying that it would “depress participation, causing a population undercount that would disproportionately harm states and cities with large immigrant communities,” as well as be more expensive.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office already put the 2020 Census on its “high risk list” of government programs at risk of fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement, the letter said. An inaccurate Census could result in states having an incorrect number of representatives in Congress and the Electoral College until at least the 2030 Census.

The Census measures the total number of people in the country and determines where dollars will be spent on federal programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps.

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