Auburn’s population drops in 2023 compared to 2022

Decline similar to many cities of 50,000 or more across the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau

Three of the largest cities in South King County appear to be following a nationwide trend of population declines among cities with more than 50,000 people.

Although the declines were slight from July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023, Auburn had the highest drop among the largest 15 cities in the state with a decline of 1.2% (985 people), going from 84,855 to 83,870, according to estimated numbers released May 16 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kent dropped 0.8% (1,051 people), from 134,429 in 2022 to 133,378 in 2023. Federal Way declined 0.2% (180 people) from 97,881 to 97,701.

Renton slightly increased population by 0.4% (424 people), climbing from 104,067 to 104,491.

Many large cities with populations of 50,000 or more saw notable population declines over the course of the pandemic, according to the Census Bureau. Although their losses have slowed to pre-pandemic levels, their populations continued to decrease in 2023.

In 2020, Auburn, Kent, Federal Way and Renton each had much higher populations than in 2023, according to the Census Bureau.

Auburn had a population of 87,043 in 2020; Kent was at 136,592; Federal Way 100,988; and Renton at 106,719.

The estimates also show that, on average, many small and midsize U.S. cities with populations under 50,000 saw relatively higher growth rates in 2023 than in 2019 before the pandemic hit while large cities generally grew at slower rates, according to the population estimates.

As of July 1, 2019, cities with populations of 50,000 or more were the fastest growing on average. Fast-forward to 2023, they grew slower on average than all other population categories other than small cities with fewer than 5,000 people, according to the Census Bureau.

Large cities gained an average of 741 people in 2019, the year before the pandemic, but only 498 from 2022 to 2023 – nearly 40% less.

In a possible sign of the COVID-19 pandemic’s lasting impact, the country’s fastest-growing places are increasingly likely to be far-flung exurban communities on the outer margins of metro areas, according to July 1, 2023, population estimates released May 16.

“With many more people in working ages now able to work from home at least some of the time, it’s likely that some people are more willing to live further away from their place of employment than they would have in the past,” said Luke Rogers, demographer in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Division.

Fewer of the fastest-growing places between 2022 and 2023 were inner suburbs than in 2019 before the pandemic, and more were on the far outskirts of metro areas — 30, 40 and even more than 60 miles away from the largest city’s downtown, according to the Census Bureau.

“While the Census Bureau doesn’t define exurbs, we tend to think of them as far outer suburbs of metro areas, and they often have a mix of urban and rural character,” Rogers said. “Exurbs have sometimes been among the most rapidly growing communities, but this appears to be even more true now than before the pandemic.”

Multiple factors are likely behind the increased growth of exurbs.

Among them: Rising housing costs after the start of the pandemic, which drove some people farther away from cities toward exurbs in search of cheaper homes, according to the Census Bureau. Greater opportunities to work from home also likely contributed. Before the pandemic, telework and remote work options were much less common.

According to the Census Bureau, patterns of population growth and distribution regularly evolve, and it is too soon to tell whether the recent surge of exurban growth is a temporary blip or a more enduring phenomenon.

Other notable numbers

The Census Bureau released 2023 population estimates for the 15 largest cities in Washington as part of nationwide numbers.

Seattle is the largest city in the state followed by (2) Spokane, 229,447; (3) Tacoma, 222,906; (4) Vancouver, 196,442; (5) Bellevue, 151,574; (6) Kent, 133,378; and (7) Everett, 111,180.

Vancouver had the largest increase in 2023 of 1% (1,942 people), going from 194,500 to 196,442. Seattle increased 0.8% (5,944 people) from 749,134 to 755,078. In 2020, Vancouver had a population of 191,278. Seattle was at 740,565, but dropped to 731,757 in 2021 before the numbers climbed.