From 2010 to 2017 net migration into DC was greater than that of 31 states

Housing demand and school enrollment are examples of how this migration has had an influence on the city’s economy

The Census Bureau estimates DC’s population was 693,972 as of July 1, 2017, an increase of 92,206 from the April 1, 2010 census. Although DC had more people than only two states in 2017, the amount of DC’s increase since 2010 was greater than in 19 states. In percentage terms DC’s 15.3% gain over the 7 years was almost three times the US average (5.5%) and greater than that in all 50 states. (The percentage gains in the 7 states with the most rapid increases in population—Colorado. Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington—ranged between 10.1% and 12.6%)

Net in-migration is the principal explanation for DC’s relatively rapid population gains. In other words, more people moved in than moved out.

  • Net migration into DC of 57,912 accounted for almost two-thirds (63.7%) of the city’s population increase.
  • DC’s net migration was greater than in 31 states. It represented a 9.6 % increase over DC’s total 2010 population, a higher percentage gain from migration than in every state except Florida (10.3%).
  • DC’s net migration was almost evenly split between international (47%) and domestic (53%).
  • The amount of net international migration into DC topped 14 states, but net domestic migration was even more striking: DC outpaced 35 states.

table 1

Migration also contributes to the part of DC’s population gain resulting from natural increase (which is births minus deaths).

According to the Census Bureau about one-third (36.3%) of DC’s population increase from 2010 to 2017 was due to natural increase. It should be noted, however, that many of the births that occurred in DC must have been to parents who migrated into the city during those seven years. In addition, the relatively young age of many migrants meant that few of them died in those years. In DC there were only 51.7% as many deaths as births over the period whereas for the US as a whole there were 66.1% as many deaths as births. Consequently, although DC had more births than only two states, the natural increase in DC’s population from 2010 to 2017 was greater than in 9 states.

Migration and age groups in DC. According to the economic forecasting company IHS Global Insight, 85% of the increases in DC’s population from 2010 to 2017 fell in two age groups: (1) 25 to 44 years and (2) under 15. Although migration can occur within any age range, these two age groups are closely tied to migration.

  • From 2010 to 2017 DC’s population between the ages of 25 and 44 grew by 54,071, a 26.3% increase that accounted for 58.6% of all growth in the city from 2010 to 2017. It is not possible to know how many of the additional 54,071 persons in this age group were migrants, but it can be no coincidence that this increase is close to the 57,912 net migration into DC reported by Census for the period. This age group is mobile and can easily move for employment reasons—and is also the age group most likely to have children.
  • From 2010 to 2017 DC’s population under 15 years of age grew by 24,436, a 29.2% increase slightly higher than that for the 25 to 44 age group. Accounting for 13.9% of the city’s population in 2010, children under 15 accounted for 26.5% of all growth from 2010 to 2017. Again, it is not possible to know how many of the additional children of this age either accompanied persons migrating to DC or were born to such migrants after they arrived, but surely many were.

The scale of the changes in migration and age groups that occurred between 2010 and 2017 would be expected to have many influences in the District’s economy, and this has been the case. For example, according to CoStar, a private sector firm that collects data on apartments and other commercial real property, from the first quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2017 there was an increase of 21,492 in occupied market rate apartment units in the District of Columbia. Similarly, enrollment in DC Public and Charter schools increased by 17,139 from the 2009-10 to 2016-7 school years, a 23.5% gain. Increases of these magnitudes in housing and school enrollments would not have been possible without the net in-migration experienced in DC from 2010 to 2017.

table 2

graph 1

The course of net migration will continue to have a great deal of influence on the the District’s economy. Migration is a net concept, meaning that it is the difference between those moving in and those moving out, so the questions surrounding migration have to do both with DC’s ability to attract new people and to retain those that are here.

According to Moody’s Analytics, an economic forecasting company, the nation’s population in the 20 to 30 age group is actually expected to decline over the coming years. From the first quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2017 there was a 22.6% increase in the 25 to 29 age group, whereas in the next five years Moody’s expects a 3% decline. To maintain its past inflow of young adults in this age group DC would therefore have to attract a larger share of the national total than was true of the past few years. In attracting people to DC an important question is also the city’s continuing ability to attract workers over 30 years of age who are not coming here for first or entry level jobs.

For retaining people who are here the key questions center on those 25 to 44 year-olds who have been at the center of DC’s recent population growth. What share of this age cohort will find sufficient job opportunities and housing options and secondary school options to keep them committed to staying in the District of Columbia?

There are, of course, many factors affecting migration into DC that are beyond the city’s control. These include developments in the national economy, federal spending policies that can make it easier or harder to find employment in DC’s key industry, and national policies affecting immigration that might reduce net international migration not only to DC but elsewhere in the country.

About the data.

This is the third of three blogs on DC population based on the December 2017 estimates of the US Census Bureau of DC population in 2017.

The population data for the District of Columbia for April 2010 and July 2017 are estimates from the US Bureau of the Census. The July 2017 data for DC and all of the states were released in December 2017 and contains an analysis of the components of natural increase and migration that explain the net changes in population from 2010 to 2017 for the US and for each jurisdiction.

Data on the age composition of DC population for the first quarter of 2010 and the second quarter of 2017 are estimates from the economic forecasting firm IHS Global Insight.

Changes in the 25-29 year-old age cohort in the US are from the economic forecasting firm Moody’s Analytics.

Data on occupied market rate apartment units in DC in 2010.1 and 2017.2 are from CoStar, a real estate information firm that tracks development in the District of Columbia and elsewhere in the nation.

Data on yearly enrollments in DC Public and DC Charter schools is from the DC Public Charter School Board.

An earlier version of this blog appeared in the February 2018 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends report issued by the District of Columbia Office of Revenue Analysis, a component of the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

Appendix table

table 3



2017 marks the third time in 70 years DC has had 694,000 residents

From 1950, when it was the nation’s 9th largest city, DC has fared better than most of the then 12 largest cities

The Census Bureau has estimated DC’s population at 693,972 as of July 1, 2017. This is the third time DC’s population has been at that level. The first time was in 1941—on the way up to becoming 900,000 (reached in 1943). The second was in 1976—on the way down to a level of 566,000 (reached in 1998). This third time population is rising again, having grown by 127,000 (22.5%) from the 1998 low point.

graph 1a.PNG

In 1941 employment growth related to New Deal programs and World War II had attracted many people to the city. Population soon soared to 900,000 but started to decline at the war’s end. Even after losing about 100,000 from the war time peak, DC was the 9th largest city in the nation in 1950 with a population of 802,178.

table 1.PNG

US population more than doubled from 1950 to 2016, but DC’s declined by 15% over that time, and its rank among cities fell to 21. Measured by percent change in population, however, DC fared better in those 66 years than all but 3 of the 1950 cohort of the top 12 cities.

DC since 1950. The 1970’s knocked DC out of the ranks of the nation’s 12 largest cities. DC held onto the 9th spot in city ranking through 1970 despite population declines in the 1950’s and 1960’s. But the city lost 188,000 people, a 15% decline, in the 1970’s and its rank fell to 15th in 1980. After losing another 65,000, DC was ranked 21st in 2000, and population gains beginning in 2005 were not sufficient to keep the city’s rank from slipping a little further to 24th in 2010. With growth continuing, DC rose to 21st among US cities in 2016, and it is possible that the rise in population that has brought it to the 694,000 mark for the third time in its history may lead to higher relative city ranking as well.

table 2

The 1950 cohort of top cities 66 years later. Much has happened since 1950, but DC has actually fared better than most of the top dozen cities of that year.

  • As a group, these dozen cities lost 1.9 million people, 8.1% of their population, and the share of the nation’s population living in them went from 15.4% in 1950 to 6.6% in 2016.
  • Of the top 12 cities of 1950, 9 lost population. Only New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco grew.
  • Only four of the cities remain in the top dozen: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.
  • The 121,008 decline in DC’s population was the least of all 9 cities that lost population. Detroit lost the most (1,176,773).
  • The 15.1% decline in DC’s population was also the least of the 9 cities that lost population. Four cities lost 50% or more of their population: Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh.

table 3a.PNG

graph 2                                                                              graph 3

Many long time residents of Washington DC are conscious of local developments that have contributed to population declines over the years including such things as urban renewal, flight to the suburbs, public safety concerns, quality of city services, and bankruptcy of the city government. However, all of the large cities of 1950 were affected by enormous changes in the US economy. Industries changed and population shifted to southern and western locations. It is noteworthy that DC’s loss in population in this changing world was less than for most of the1950 cohort cities. Being the nation’s capital, the location of substantial federal government employment and procurement spending, seems to have provided DC with an important measure of stability. Once again passing the 694,000 milestone in 2017—this time going up—shows that the city is still able to attract jobs and people in today’s continuously evolving economy.

The newcomer cities. As noted above, only four of 1950’s top cities are still among the dozen largest in the US. The departing 8 cities, all from the East and Midwest have been replaced by four from Texas, two from California, and one each from Arizona and Florida. Taken together, the newcomer cities increased by 8.7 million, a 375% gain. The largest gain, however, was Los Angeles, not a newcomer, which added 2.0 million and doubled in size. The biggest percentage gain was Phoenix at 1,412%.

In 2016 the top dozen cities accounted for 8.6% of the US population, a share close to half as much as the share (15.4%) the top 12 cities had in 1950. Of the increase in US population from 1950 to 2016, just 5.8% occurred in the nation’s top dozen cities. Traditional big-city boundaries seem thus to have diminished somewhat in relative importance even as the nation has continued to urbanize.

table 4.PNG


About the data.

This is the second of three blogs about DC population based on the US Census Bureau estimate of DC population in 2017 released in December 2017.

The population data for the District of Columbia, other US cities, and the US is from the US Bureau of the Census. The data is for incorporated cities and not for the metropolitan areas of which they are a part. Annual data back to 1939 is accessed from Moody’s Analytics. Data for city rankings is accessed from the website In the city ranking tables, 2016 data for DC do not reflect the revision made in December to that year by the Bureau of the Census.

A version of this blog first appeared in the January 2018 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trend report issued by the District of Columbia Office of Revenue Analysis, a component of the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

This blog was revised on March 22 to clarify that the graph on p. 1 was population only.









DC’s population rose to 693,972 in 2017—9,636 above 2016. This was the slowest growth in 9 years.

However, growth in 2017 is 12,082 above last year’s estimate for 2016, as revisions added 3,166 people to prior years

In December 2017 the US Bureau of the Census estimated the population of states and the District of Columbia as of July 1st for that year and it also revised estimates for prior years. In the new estimate the Census Bureau added over 3,000 people to DC for the years 2012 through 2016, bringing 2016’s total to 684,336 (compared to the 681,170 it had estimated in December 2016). For 2017 the Census Bureau estimated DC’s population at 693,972 , an increase of 9,636 (1.4%) over the revised estimate for 2016.

The new data show that DC’s population continues to grow. Population has now increased for 12 straight years, adding 126,836 (22.4%) from 2005 to 2017.

The new estimates also indicate that DC’s population growth slowed in 2017. The 9,636 gain in 2017 was the slowest in 9 years, and less than the annual average of 10,570 that has occurred since 2005.

The components of DC’s population growth since 2000 show that slower growth in 2017 is mostly attributable to slower net domestic migration into DC. However, as noted below, the revisions to the years 2012 to 2016 create some uncertainty about the current trajectory of DC’s population growth, and they underscore the importance of migration in DC’s future population changes.

graph 1

table 2table 1a

Components of change. The Census Bureau breaks down population changes into two main categories—natural increase (the difference between births and deaths) and net migration (the difference between those moving in versus those moving out). In 2017 natural increase of 4,293 accounted for 44.6% of the growth in DC’s population from the prior year, and net migration added 5,312 (55.1% of all growth). The 2017 gains in both natural increase and net migration were below their respective annual averages in the 6 1/4 years from the April 2010 Census count to July 1, 2016, but the change in net migration explains most of the slower growth. Last year’s natural increase was 310 (6.7%) below the average from April 2010 to July 2016, while net migration was 3,104 (36.9%) less than the average of the prior 6 1/4 years.    graph 2

table 3b

Natural increase. Natural increase is positive because there are more births than deaths. From 2016 to 2017, births and deaths were both higher than the average over the prior six years. However deaths increased more than births (634 v 323), hence the slow down in natural increase.

graph 3

table 3a

Net migration. Net migration has two components: international and domestic, each of which is the net change of people coming to DC and those leaving. Over the past year the increase in net international migration was 486 (13.2%) greater than the 6 1/4 year average, while the increase in net domestic migration was far below that average. Net domestic migration of 1,152 from 2016 to 2017 was 3,590 (76%) below the average of the prior 6 1/4 years and is equivalent to all of the difference between slower growth in DC’s population in 2017 compared to the annual average from 2010 to 2017. Census provides only a net number for immigration, so the data does not indicate whether domestic migration slowed primarily because fewer people moved in or more moved out.

graph 4

table 5

How certain is it that DC’s population growth in 2017 slowed as much as the Census Bureau has estimated? The Census Bureau’s initial estimate for DC’s population in 2016 was quite similar to the current one for 2017—slower growth due principally to a sharp decrease in net domestic migration. The revisions to the 2016 estimates, including growth added to earlier years, were primarily due to increasing the net domestic migration estimates, and these revisions increased the 2016 population estimate from 681,170 to 684,336. As noted in the table, for the 6 1/4 years from April 2010 to July 2016 Census added 2,959 due to increased domestic migration, cut 829 from international migration, and added 350 for natural increase. This revision to 2016 suggests that 2017’s population estimate might also be revised in subsequent years as more information becomes available to Census from analysis of tax returns and other sources.

graph 5

table 6

The revision to 2016 and earlier years underscores the importance of net migration for the dynamics of population change in DC. Looking ahead, DC’s natural increase is not likely to change a great deal from year to year, ranging somewhere around 4,500 per year and unlikely to exceed 5,000 for some time. If DC is to continue to grow at a pace of 10,570 per year (the yearly average of the past 12 years) this means the city must experience a net gain in migration of around 6,000 per year. There is, of course, no way to know what migration will be in the future. The attractiveness of DC as a place to live will be balanced against factors such as housing prices, job availability, the quality of schools, and national immigration policies.

About the data.

This is the first of three related blogs concerning District of Columbia population based on the December 2017 US Bureau of the Census estimate of population in the city.

The population data is from the US Bureau of the Census which estimates population for all states and the District of Columbia in December as of July 1 of that year. Census also breaks down changes in total population into the categories of natural increase (excess of births over deaths) and net migration (the net of persons moving in and persons moving out, calculated separately for international and domestic migration). These components of change are shown relative to the past year and relative to the April 2010 census (a 7 1/4 year span). In this analysis, the components of change from 2016 to 2017 are subtracted from the total change from April 2010 to give a 6 1/4 year change from April 2010 to July 2016.

A version of this blog appeared in the December 2017 District of Columbia Economic and Revenue Trends which is issued by the District of Columbia Office of Revenue Analysis, a component of the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer.