State population rate slows


The Olympian

Washington's population growth fell to its lowest point in nearly two decades as the economy continued to struggle last year.

Between July 2001 and July 2002, Washington's population increased by an estimated 75,606 new residents, bringing the total population to just over 6 million. There were 79,610 births and 45,854 deaths, meaning that 41,850 of the newcomers moved to Washington from other states or other countries.

But the state did have one hot spot for growth, thanks to radioactive waste cleanup at the Hanford nuclear reservation. Franklin and Benton counties, where most Hanford workers live, led the state in population growth from July 2001 to July 2002, according to U.S. Census estimates released this week.

The total state population increased 1.3 percent in that period, the slowest annual growth since 1986. Franklin County's population increased 3.8 percent, and Benton County's grew 3.1 percent.

The rest of Washington state is a different story. Chang Mook Sohn, state economist, was surprised the state growth rate was as high as 1.3 percent. "Population and economic growth move together," Sohn said.

Washington's population growth slightly outpaced the 1.1 percent increase in the overall U.S. population between July 2001 and July 2002. But it's a definite slowdown from the state's average 2 percent yearly growth during the 1990s.

"Clearly it's not as good as in the normal times," Sohn said. "That has implications for the future economic growth."

Sohn said he expects population and economic growth to remain between 1 percent and 1.5 percent for a few years before picking up again.


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