We began our look at birth rates at the global and national level, and now we turn to the state and region. We don’t have any good projections for births at the local level, but we can look at the patterns of births today and make some educated guesses about where the children will be in the future.
We left off the last article with a projection by demographers at the University of Virginia that in 2040, children in Washington State between birth and four years old (that is, children born between 2035 and 2040) would make up 6.1 percent of the state population. This would be just about the national average.
The Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM) has its own population projections for the state that include projected births. OFM projects that in 2040, 5.7 percent of the population will be four years old and younger. This is a difference of 46,000 children. The crude birth rate (births per total population) in the state was 11.1 births per 1,000 residents in 2019, and OFM projects it will be 11.35 in 2040. While the birth rate will fall nationally, Washington tends to attract large numbers of young adults who then turn into parents, thereby raising the crude birth rate.
OFM projects population growth by race and ethnicity to 2040. Figure 1 shows the projected population of children under age 5 for the next 20 years. See endnote for definitions.
We see a pattern similar to the national pattern of the previous article. The number of children born to two non-Hispanic white parents is expected to decline in percentage and in absolute numbers, as the state follows a national trend of increased interracial marriage. The number of children born to all other sets of parents is expected to grow to some extent.
Births are uneven around the state today and will be so in the future. This is simply a function of where younger people are living. Some rural areas struggle to offer compelling opportunities to young people, and others offer very compelling opportunities to retirees. (Median ages among counties in the state range from a low of 28 in Adams County to a high of 58 in Jefferson County.) Figure 2 shows crude birth rates in Washington counties.
The highest birth rates are found in Central Washington, where the populations skew young and Hispanic. Although birth rates to Hispanic women have been falling, they are still higher than those for other groups. The pattern in Figure 2 is projected to carry forward for the next 20 years. Figure 3 shows OFM’s projections for 2040 for the share of the population under age 5.
Again, the higher birth rates and younger populations are projected to be in Central Washington, with the popular retirement destinations of San Juan and Jefferson counties having especially low populations of young children.
Specific projections for births are not available at the sub-county level. But we can look at populations today to get an idea of where families with young children are clustering. Figure 5 shows the populations under 5 years old for the Census Bureau’s 29 public use microdata areas (PUMAs) in the three-county region (PUMAs have around 100,000 people). The data show a five year average of American Community Survey responses from 2014 to 2018.
The two extremes are of note. The Lakewood/JBLM PUMA has a large share of young military families, living both on and off-base. In contrast, the Downtown/Queen Anne PUMA has a large share of highrise housing and very expensive single family housing that would be less affordable for young families. Otherwise, the pattern suggests more children in the affordable suburbs of south King County and the outlying areas of Pierce and Snohomish counties.
The Census Bureau expects annual births to increase only slightly in the U.S. over the next 20 years, and IHME expects annual births in the U.S. to fall during that time. In contrast, OFM expects births in the state to increase by over 20 percent between now and 2040. Washington has been very successful in attracting and keeping the young adults who will become parents of those children. Although the distribution of children will be uneven, the birth-dearth will mostly affect relatively small counties (or those skewed by the presence of a university), and the larger counties will have a healthy crop of new young citizens each year.
The question is, will the parents of those children be able to afford appropriate housing? The answer in much of the Puget Sound area right now is a resounding no. The work and commute pattern shuffle brought on by the pandemic may bring some relief if proximity to the main job centers becomes less important. New settlement patterns for families with young children will, in turn, have implications for school districts and social service providers.
Notes on race and ethnicity
The Census Bureau considers “Hispanic” an ethnicity and not a race. A Hispanic person can be of any race. The birth projections covered in this report are broken out by race, and separately by designation of Hispanic and non-Hispanic. The data provide a category of “non-Hispanic white,” and subtracting that figure from that for “white only” we get a figure for “Hispanic white,” which comprises about 85 percent of the Hispanic ethnicity.
The “Other” category in Figure 2 is comprised of Native Americans, Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.