Census: Seattle is the fastest-growing big city in the U.S.

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We’ve come a long way from the “Will the last person leaving Seattle –Turn out the lights” era of the 1970s.

Last year, Seattle grew faster than any other major American city, according to population estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau.

From July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013, Seattle grew by 2.8 percent — the highest rate among the 50 most-populous U.S. cities. Seattle added nearly 18,000 residents in the one-year period, bringing its population to about 652,000.

Austin, Texas had led the single-year growth rate among the biggest cities for the previous two years. In the 2011 to 2012 census data, Seattle grew by 2.1 percent, which ranked only ninth.

Also in the latest population estimates: Seattle leapfrogged Boston to become the nation’s 21st biggest city. Seattle is within striking distance of returning to the top-20 cities for the first time since 1960.

The new data show that all but four of the major cities experienced growth last year.

Detroit, at the opposite end of the spectrum, had the biggest population loss — 1.4 percent. The other cities that shrunk were Cleveland, Memphis, Tenn., and Baltimore.

What’s the reason for Seattle’s population boom? The Census Bureau offers no interpretation of its data, but surely the city’s healthy economy is responsible for attracting many new residents. According to Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, the city added nearly 15,000 new jobs between 2012 and 2013.

Seattle didn’t just surpass other big U.S. cities in 2013. For the second consecutive year, it outpaced its suburbs — and the new census data show this trend is accelerating.

Seattle grew at double the rate of surrounding King County between 2012 and 2013. That is significantly faster than in the previous year’s census estimates, which clocked Seattle’s growth at 25 percent faster than its King County suburbs.

Among all places in Washington with at least 50,000 residents, Seattle had the fastest rate of growth, and was followed by: Sammamish (2.2 percent), Auburn (2 percent), Richland (1.7 percent), and Redmond (1.7 percent).

The new census data also show the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area added 57,000 people and remains the nation’s 15th-largest metro area, with 3.61 million residents.

Washington’s population grew by 76,000 and is estimated at 6.97 million.

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