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.


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