Mercer Island population grows slightly

The boom growth of outer suburbs like Issaquah is starting to look a lot more like Mercer Island, according to an annual report released last week in Olympia.

The state’s 2009 population estimate, prepared annually by the Office of Financial Management, places Washington state’s population at 6,668,200 as of April 1, 2009. This represents growth of 80,600, or 1.2 percent, over the last year, compared to the most recent annual growth peak of 1.9 percent in 2006.

Mercer Island’s population was estimated to rise by a scant 70 residents over last year to 22,720.

But that sort of growth is typical for what City Director of Development Services Steve Lancaster called a “mature suburb.”

“Mercer Island is a largely built-out community from the development cycle standpoint,” he said. “We have been a modestly growing community.”

In fact, from 1980 to 2000, the Island’s population grew by just 514 residents to 22,036, according to U.S. Census figures. OFM estimated that the local population dipped into the mid-part of the last decade before rising back above 22,000.

Despite the Island’s recent development boom, Lancaster said trends in the average number of residents per household have been on the decline — particularly in affluent communities such as Mercer Island. And starting last year, new housing starts here slowed to a trickle. While more capacity and density is required by county growth management regulations, the city planner said that does not directly translate into population growth.

“We’re in very good shape to grow — if we want,” he said.

Meanwhile, Seattle-area suburbs such as Issaquah and Mill Creek — which had seen double-digit growth in the past decade — are thought to have slowed to just a one or two percent gain a year.

“The continued housing contraction nationwide and poor economic conditions appear to be limiting the mobility of the population usually influenced by labor market opportunities,” Lowe said. “Many job seekers are finding it difficult to sell their homes or to relocate to accept employment at the price of paying two mortgages for an extended period.”

Migration is an important component of our state’s growth, and is largely driven by employment opportunities.

While Washington remains more economically attractive than California, Oregon and many other states, population gains due to migration have dropped from 81,000 in 2006 to 58,000 in 2008 and 39,000 for 2009, according to Theresa Lowe, the state’s chief demographer.

Basic market forces throughout the United States have also reduced immigration and have resulted in many resident and situational immigrants returning home.

Washington has relatively large Hispanic and Asian populations, ranking seventh among the states in the number of Asians and 13th in the number of Hispanic/Latinos.

The large inflows and outflows associated with these populations are affected by present economic conditions, another factor resulting in the slowdown of state growth. The annual population determinations by OFM are based on actual change in school enrollment, housing, voters, driver’s licenses and other indicator data, and are used to distribute revenues to local governments for public services and transportation. These annual figures are also used to develop and validate population forecasts, which help to anticipate changes in population-driven budget expenditures.

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