Our population is growing. But more and more people are leaving Greater Washington. What gives?

From The Washington Business Journal:

Greater Washington has seen massive growth over the last six years, a result of people flocking to jobs and economic security during hard times. But now the region is competing with other up-and-coming metro areas, and people are making the decision to move.

While population news for the area has generally been rosy, a recent avalanche of data paints a more complex picture. More and more people are leaving Greater Washington, slowing its growth rate and making the region highly dependent on international immigration and births, according to newly released data.

The D.C. metro region grew by 53,508 people in 2016, to 6,131,977. But that growth came entirely from net positive international immigration and natural growth (births minus deaths). Meanwhile 31,010 more people left the region than moved here from within the country.

The D.C. metro area saw 40,581 more people immigrate to the region from other countries than leave, along with 43,886 from natural growth, which explains the positive growth overall. But that growth rate has slowed, dropping from 1.9 percent in 2011 to 1.5 percent in 2013 to just the 0.9 percent recorded in 2016, according to data from the Census Bureau and parsed by the Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University in a new report.

More and more people are packing up and moving too, with the outflow increasing from the 27,900 people who left the region in 2015 and the more than the 25,200 who left in 2014. Domestic migration used to be a net positive — 23,000 more people moved here from within the country than left in 2011.

“The times when our region grows more quickly is primarily due to jobs growth,” said Jeannette Chapman, the deputy director and senior research associate at the institute. “Our region has not been growing as many jobs as it has largely due to the sequester and other issues.”

She said Greater Washington was attractive during bad times because its economy was still growing and more resilient to the downturn, but more people started leaving during the period of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, and continue to do so as jobs growth slows. Our region created fewer jobs than we originally thought last year, as I wrote recently.

Greater Washington’s problems echo similar metro areas that see more people leave than arrive, such as Boston, San Francisco and Philadelphia, which have experienced even more anemic population growth. But some metro areas are bucking the trend with an influx of domestic migration and more robust population growth overall, including Phoenix, Dallas, Seattle and Houston.

The challenge for Greater Washington is there are other metro areas that offer jobs and high quality of life, and are also far less expensive — driving people away for what they see as greener pastures. Meanwhile international immigration has been steady, and the natural population growth is built upon the inexorable forces of people wanting children.

Take Fairfax County’s massive exodus in 2016, with 17,820 more people leaving the county than moving there domestically. But it still eked out positive net growth of 393 people that year. Births and international immigration made up the difference.

The report covers the Greater Washington metropolitan statistical area, which includes D.C. and parts of Maryland and Virginia, along with a small portion of West Virginia. The most recent data spans from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016.

  • The District did well in comparison with a significant influx of people from other parts of the country, a net total of 2,276. It welcomed 4,116 immigrants and another 4,324 in net births.
  • Loudoun County also did well, growing by 11,386 — spread between natural growth, international migration and people moving there from within the country.
  • About 8,677 people left Prince George’s County, while it received 5,525 international immigrants and an additional 5,665 from natural population growth. In total, its population grew by 2,046.
  • The City of Manassas actually saw its total population decrease by 120 over the last year, as 1,000 people left for other destinations, and natural births and international immigration failed to close the gap.

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Copyright Washington Business Journal, reprinted with permission