Washington got its family portrait Wednesday - the one the U.S. Census Bureau takes every 10 years - and it left some people smiling, some people puzzling and a lot of people needing time to look behind the numbers.
There are more than 6.7 million of us now. And the picture shows more faces of color in more places as the state becomes an increasingly diverse melting pot.
And not surprisingly, the bulk of the roughly 830,000 residents who came to Washington over the past decade plunked themselves down in Olympia and other areas along the Interstate 5 corridor from Vancouver to Bellingham.
The numbers will be used by state and local redistricting commissions to redraw the political maps that determine the lines of congressional and legislative districts. Based on its growth, Washington gained a 10th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. There’s money riding on the numbers, too, in terms of federal and state aid and allocations based on population.
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“Growth is generally good for the area,” said Bruce Mann, a professor of economics at the University of Puget Sound. “More people, more skills, more ideas, more diversity. Over the long haul, those are the kinds of things that bring more dynamism, more vibrancy and new ideas to an area.”
The hard-count Census numbers will replace the state Office of Financial Management estimates for 2010. The OFM numbers – based on building permits, household size and occupancy, and other data and calculated using a complex formula – help direct where state dollars go, including such things as who gets what share of liquor and other taxes doled out by population formulas.
Every 10 years, the census gives OFM a reckoning point.
And beginning Wednesday, population forecaster Yi Zhao and other numbers crunchers at the state were combing through the figures and evaluating data, she said.
Among nuggets gleaned from the figures released by the Census Bureau:
• The state logged a population of 6,724,540 as of the April 1, 2010, count. That’s up 14.1 percent in 10 years.
• 37 of the state’s 39 counties gained residents; only Pacific to the west and Garfield to the east did not.
• Topping the list of county population growth was Franklin County in Eastern Washington, which saw its population jump by 58 percent, from about 50,000 to nearly 80,000.
• Overall, nearly 5 percent of Washingtonians claim two or more races as their heritage. Slightly more than 7 percent of us are Asian; 1.5 percent Native American; 3.6 percent black.
Statewide, Hispanics/Latinos are the fastest-growing racial/ethnic minority. They now comprise 11.2 percent of the state population and outnumber any other minority group. This segment of the population grew 71 percent in the past 10 years. (The census doesn’t consider Hispanic/Latino to be a racial group, but an ethnicity. Most Hispanics mark themselves as “white” under the racial category.)
Washington’s agricultural fields and restaurant trade are magnets for many Latinos who come north from Mexico and Central America “looking for a better life,” said Jose Vasquez, a psychologist who has worked with Centro Latino in Tacoma. Many come north to join families already in the Puget Sound area, he added.
“A country is based on diversity, and that diversity is important,” he said. “You have to look around. Suddenly you see a little restaurant selling tacos and then you see a little market. They are businesses that contribute to our economy.”
Zhao, the state’s chief demographer, said that net migration to the state has declined compared with the 1990s.
“Far fewer Californians were seeking homes in other Western states during the last decade,” Zhao said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.