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1990 census: Populations grow in urbanized areas and decline in rural areas; Washington state continues to draw population from outside its borders; females live longer than males.

HistoryLink.org Essay 9412 : Printer-Friendly Format

The total population of Washington state in 1990 is 4,866,692, an increase of 734,339 (17.77 percent) from the 1980 count of 4,132,353. Statistics from the 1990 federal census reveal that Washington continues to draw population from other states and countries (net migration) and that the total population is becoming more concentrated in urban areas of the state. The numbers also show that the total population remains predominantly white (88.5 percent) and that the largest group living in poverty is women with children but with no spouse present.

There may be minor discrepancies in some numerical counts as data has been refined subsequent to the census, but these are not statistically significant.

Population and Growth

Population growth is composed of two major components -- natural increase and net migration.  The natural increase in population (births less deaths) is the more stable component of population growth. Migration into and out of Washington is more volatile, and is to a great degree dependent upon the economic conditions within the state relative to the rest of the nation.

The natural increase and net migration that combined to account for Washington state's population growth between 1980 and 1990 were:

  • Number of births: 705,100
  • Number of deaths: 339,940
  • Net migration (incoming minus outgoing): 369,150

    Total Increase 734,310

In 1990, the largest of the 39 counties in Washington state by population were:

  • King:  1,507,305
  • Pierce:  586,203
  • Snohomish:  465,628
  • Spokane:  361,333
  • Clark:  238,053
  • Kitsap:  189,731
  • Yakima:  188,823
  • Thurston:  161,238
  • Whatcom:  127,780
  • Benton:  112,560

In terms of population growth measured by percentage increase in population, the five fastest-growing counties from 1980 to 1990 were:

  • Snohomish:  27.4 percent
  • Island: 27.2 percent
  • San Juan: 22.9 percent
  • Jefferson: 22.6 percent
  • Kitsap: 22.4 percent

Measured by numerical population growth, the fastest-growing counties from 1980 to 1990 and the number of new residents in each were:

  • King  237,407
  • Snohomish 127,908
  • Pierce 100,536
  • Clark 45,826
  • Kitsap 42,579

In 1990, the 10 largest cities in Washington by population were:

  • Seattle:  516,259
  • Spokane:  177,165
  • Tacoma: 176,664
  • Bellevue:  86,872
  • Everett:  69,974
  • Federal Way:  67,449 (First year counted as separate city)
  • Yakima:  54,843
  • Bellingham:  52,179
  • Vancouver:  46,380
  • Kennewick:  42,152

Population Characteristics:  Urban/Rural

For the 1990 census, the Census Bureau defined "urban population" as comprising all persons living in urbanized areas (defined as including a "central place" and adjacent densely settled areas (urban fringe) that together have a minimum of 50,000 persons, and places having 2,500 or more persons that lie outside urbanized areas.

The 1990 census revealed that 3,717,948 persons (76 percent of Washington's total population) lived in urbanized areas. Rural population totaled 1,148,744 (24 percent) of total population.

Population Characteristics:  Sex

In the 1990 census, women barely outnumbered men in Washington by 2,452,945 (50.4 percent) to 2,413,747 (49.6 percent).

Broken down into age groups, the effect of female longevity is clearly seen. While males outnumber females in the 1-64 age groups, the higher mortality rate for men in later years tips the overall balance slightly in favor of females:

  • Age 0-20:    756,075 males, 716,841 females  (+39,234 males)
  • Age 21-64:  1,309,723 males, 1,302,711 females (+7,012 males)
  • Age 65+:     242,299 males, 332,989 females (+90,690 females)

Population Characteristics: Race

Analyzing the data more deeply, the 1990 census provides the following racial breakdown of the state's population among the 5,680,602 persons who characterized themselves as belonging to a single race: 

  • White: 4,308,937 (88.5 percent)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander: 210,958 (4.3 percent)
  • Black or African American: 149,801  (3.1 percent)
  • Other races: 115,513 (2.4 percent)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 81,483 (1.7 percent)

It should be noted that people of Hispanic/Latino extraction, who may be of any race, are counted both in the racial group to which they belong and as a separate, multi-racial group:

  • 1990 Hispanic/Latino population: 214,570  

Between 1980 and 1990, the largest growth in percentage terms was among Asians/Pacific Islander, and the  lowest was among whites. The numerical and percentage growth of each racial classification was:

  • Asian/Pacific Islander: 108,421 (57 percent increase)
  • Black or African American: 44,227 (42 percent increase)
  • Other races: 31,442 (37 percent increase)
  • American Indian or Alaska Native: 20,679 (35 percent increase)
  • White:  529,767 (14 percent increase)

Population Characteristics: Age

The percentage of Washington state's population in various age groups in 1990 was:

  • Under 5: 7.5 percent
  • 6-17: 15.9 percent
  • 18-24: 10 percent
  • 25-44: 34.1 percent
  • 45-64: 18.1 percent
  • Over 65: 14.4 percent

In the 10 years between 1980 and 1990, Washington's median age increased from 29.77 years to 33.1 years, meaning that one-half of all residents were younger than that and one-half were older.

For every 100 females over age 18 in Washington in 1990, there were 96.1 males.

Population Characteristics: Households

"Household" includes all of the people who occupy a housing unit, whether related or not.

"Non-family household" consists of a householder living alone or with nonrelatives only.

"Children" means persons under the age of 18.

  • 1990 total households: 1,872,431
  • 1990 average household size: 2.53 persons
  • 1990 average family size: 3.06 persons

  • Married couple households: 1,029,627 (55 percent of all households)
  • Married couple households with children: 475,264 (25 percent of all households)

  • Female households (no spouse present): 264,297 (9.4 percent of all households)
  • Female households (no spouse present) with children: 115,430 (6.2 percent of all households)  
  • Male households (living alone): 212,023 (11 percent of all households)
  • Total non-family households:  607,497 (32 percent of all households)
  • One-person non-family households: 476,320  (25 percent of all households)

(Note:  the percentages above total more than 100 percent due to the inclusion of some households in more than one category, e.g. married couple households and married couple households with children.)

Population Characteristics:  Education

Education statistics from the 1990 census, based on 3,827,507 Washington residents age 15 and older, listed by grades or degrees completed:

  • No schooling completed: 24,475
  • 1st to 4th grade: 19,941 
  • 5th to 8th grade:  175,220  
  • 9th grade: 125,255 
  • 10th grade: 164,184 
  • 11th grade: 162,132 
  • 12th grade, no diploma: 123,654
  • High school graduates: 1,023,053
  • Some college, no degree: 948,628
  • Associate degree (Occupational):  153,393
  • Associate degree (Academic): 124,746
  • Bachelor's degree: 527,793
  • Master's degree: 143,680
  • Professional school degree: 53,481
  • Doctorate degree: 23,988

In 1990, the population of Washington state age 3 years and over was 4,649,208.  Of this total, 1,252,312 (27 percent) were enrolled in school, ranging from preschool to college graduate courses, and 3,396,936 (73 percent) were not enrolled in any educational program.

Overall, 79 percent of all Washington residents 15 years and older had earned at least a high school degree and 19.7 percent had earned a bachelor's degree or higher.

Population Characteristics: Employment

The total potential Washington state labor force (persons over age 16) in 1990 was 1,830,031 males and 1,900,954 females, for a total of 3,730,985.

  • Men in labor force: 1,387,324
  • Men actually employed: 1,262,149 
  • Men unemployed: 75,983
  • Men in armed forces: 49,192
  • Women in labor force: 1,099,749
  • Women actually employed: 1,031,812 
  • Women unemployed: 63,233
  • Women in armed forces: 4,704

Of  the 2,293,961 men and women workers actually employed in Washington state in 1990, the distribution among the top five areas of employment were:

  • Administrative support occupations, including clerical: 354,667 (15.5 percent)
  • Professional specialty occupations: 345,725 (15.1 percent)
  • Executive, administrative, and managerial occupations: 289,901 (12.6 percent)
  • Sales occupations: 272,094 (11.9 percent)
  • Precision production, craft, and repair occupations: 265,706 (11.6 percent)

By industry, the five top employers in 1990 were:

  • Retail trade: 393,247
  • Manufacturing (durable goods): 294,749
  • Educational services: 181,806
  • Health services: 181,015
  • Other professional and related services: 163,126

Population Characteristics: Income (based on 1989 figures)

"Median income" is the midpoint of all incomes. Half of all actual incomes will be above the "median income" figure and half will be below. "Per capita personal income" is derived by dividing total state personal income by total population, including non-earners such as children and the retired. The total is not limited to wages, but includes all income earned by Washington households, including wages, self-employment income, interest, dividends, rent, social security, and other transfer payments.

The statistics for the year 1989 in Washington were:

  • Median income for all households: $31,183
  • Median family income:  $36,795
  • Median non-family household income: $19,172
  • Per capita income: $14,923

Population Characteristics: Poverty

Total number of persons for whom poverty status was determined in 1990 census: 4,741,003
Total number of persons below poverty level: 517,933 (11 percent)

Breaking the data down further, it can be seen that some groups, in particular single mothers, suffered from much higher poverty rates than others:

  • Persons 18 years and over: 3,508,444
  • Below poverty level: 338,661 (9.7 percent)
  • Persons 65 years and over: 545,755
  • Below poverty level: 49,509 (9.1 percent)
  • Households with related children under 18 years: 1,223,467
  • Below poverty level: 171,257 (14 percent)
  • Households with related children under 5 years: 357,397
  • Below poverty level: 60,675 (17 percent)
  • Households with related children 5 to 17 years: 866,070
  • Below poverty level: 110,582 (12.8 percent)
  • Households -- unrelated individuals: 842,598
  • Below poverty level: 184,767 (22 percent)
  • Families: 1,276,227
  • Below poverty level: 100,149 (7.8 percent)
  • Families with related children under 18 years: 659,146
  • Below poverty level: 80,799 (12.3 percent)
  • Families with related children under 5 years: 282,560
  • Below poverty level: 44,626 (15.8 percent)
  • Female householder, no husband present: 169,988
  • Below poverty level: 51,193 (30 percent)
  • With related children under 18 years: 120,673
  • Below poverty level: 47,630 (39.5 percent)
  • With related children under 5 years: 43,474
  • Below poverty level: 25,006 (57.5 percent)

"1990 Census of Population, General Population Characteristics: Washington," Census Bureau website accessed April 28, 2010 (http://www.census.gov/prod/cen1990/cp1/cp-1-49.pdf); "Washington State Historical Decennial Populations for State, County, and City/Town: 1890 to 2000," Washington State Office of Financial Management website accessed April 28, 2010 (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/decseries/default.asp); "1990 Census of Population Social and Economic Characteristics: Washington," U.S. Census Burea website accessed April 29, 2010 (http://www.census.gov/prod/cen1990/cp2/cp-2-49-1.pdf); Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, "Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States, Table 62 -- Washington: Race and Hispanic Origin: 1850 to 1990," U.S. Census Bureau website accessed April 28, 2010 (http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0056/tab62.pdf); "1990 Census of Population Education in the United States (1990 CP-3-4)," U.S Census Bureau website accessed April 29, 2010 (http://www.census.gov/prod/cen1990/cp3/cp-3-4.pdf); "Labor Force Status and Employment Characteristics: 1990," U.S. Census Bureau American Factfinder website accessed April 29, 2010 (http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?_bm=n&_lang=en&qr_name= DEC_1990_STF3_DP3&ds_name=DEC_1990_STF3_&geo_id=04000US53); " "Income and Poverty Status in 1989: 1990,"  U.S. Census Bureau American Factfinder website accessed April 29, 2010(http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?_bm=n&_lang=en&qr_name= DEC_1990_STF3_DP4&ds_name= DEC_1990_STF3_&geo_id=04000US53).
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.

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Poster encouraging Native American participation, U.S. Census, 1990
Courtesy United States Census Bureau

Map, county population, census 1990
Courtesy State of Washington Office of Financial Management

Map, population density by county, census 1990
Courtesy State of Washington Office of Financial Management

Chart, Washington state family characeristics, 1980-2000
Courtesy State of Washington Office of Financial Management

Chart, Washington state Hispanic population growth, 1980-2000.
Courtesy State of Washington Office of Financial Management

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