Update: County population growth slowest in four decades

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: July 1, 2011, 6:48 PM

 
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Clark County’s population growth continued to lose steam in the past year, slowing to its lowest rate since 1970, the latest state population estimates show.

The county grew by 0.6 percent, or 2,637 residents, to a total of 428,000 between April 2010 and April 2011, according to the annual July 1 report by the state Office of Financial Management.

That’s a considerable slowdown from last year and the year before, when growth stood at 1 percent and nearly 1.7 percent, respectively, but it’s nearly identical to the state’s rate of growth. The state added just 43,360 residents to reach nearly 6.8 million.

“Growth is slow everywhere,” said Yi Zhao, the state’s chief demographer.

Zhao blamed the deceleration on the economic downturn. Although the recession technically ended in 2009, there have been no signs of a quick recovery.

Limited job opportunities and a sluggish housing market hamper migration to the area, she said.

“One of the primary reasons people move is to take a job or move to a place where jobs are more plentiful,” said Scott Bailey, regional economist for the Washington Employment Security Department. The county’s jobless rate in May was estimated to be between about 10 percent and 13 percent.

The economy also appears to have influenced more women to delay having children. The county’s births decreased by 500 to a total of 5,000 in the past year, similar to the trend statewide.

“The echo boomers (children of baby boomers) became of child-bearing age in 2005,” Zhao said. “We were expecting them to have more kids. Then, in the last quarter of 2008, the stock market and housing market crashed. When the economy started turning downward, women started delaying having kids. That showed up nationwide in 2010. It really showed up this year in Washington.”

Residential construction rates reflected the dragging population rate. About 1,000 new housing units were built in the county during the last year, an increase of 0.6 percent.

Ridgefield was an exception to county and statewide trends, showing a 4.5 percent jump in population and a 5 percent rise in new housing units. It ranked seventh in the state among municipalities for the highest rate of growth.

“Camas issued more housing permits than us, but we had a higher percentage,” said Mayor Justin Clary.

Clary said available land, affordable housing and a rural atmosphere close to a metropolis help to draw residents to the town.

The population estimates are based on 2010 Census data and city- and county-specific information, including birth and death rates, housing permits, automobile registrations and school enrollment.

County/city 2010 Census 2011 Estimate

Clark 425,363 428,000

Unincorporated 203,339 204,610

Incorporated 222,024 223,390

Battle Ground 17,571 17,780

Camas 19,355 19,620

La Center 2,800 2,835

Ridgefield 4,763 4,975

Vancouver 161,791 162,300

Washougal 14,095 14,210

Woodland part 83 85

Yacolt 1,566 1,585

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551, paris.achen@columbian.com, Twitter@Col_Trends, www.Facebook.com/#!/pages/Paris-Achen