Census data: College students a strong influence on Whatcom migration

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 16, 2014 

People moving to Whatcom County tend to be younger and poorer than the overall county population, according to the latest compilation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In a comparison of Washington counties, other states and foreign locations, released by the Census Bureau on Feb. 6, King County was by far Whatcom County's largest source of new residents from 2007 to 2011. Annual migration totals from King to Whatcom County in those years was 2,096. Snohomish County was second, with 1,132 people per year moving to Whatcom. In third place was California, with 890 annual newcomers.

The largest source of new residents from outside the U.S. was Asia, with 403 immigrants per year. That was more than Canada and Mexico combined, according to the Census Bureau's 2007-11 American Community Survey.

Politicians and business leaders in the county think of population growth in terms of jobs and quality of life to attract families and retirees. But perhaps the strongest force bringing people here from 2007 to 2011 was enrollment in the state's third-largest university.

The years of the survey straddle the recession, a period when Whatcom County lost jobs, said Hart Hodges, director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University.

"We didn't have a lot of people moving here for work," Hodges said. "We also did not see dramatic population growth with people 65 and over. But we did have thousands of students come here every year for school - and King County is the most common place of origin for our students."

The median household income of people moving here from King County was about $24,000, well below the median for all newcomers ($41,000), and all county residents ($51,000).

Data from the previous American Community Survey and from WWU strongly suggest that what sets King County apart is the disproportionate number of college students moving from there.

Among incoming WWU freshmen from 2007 to 2011, 39 percent were from King County, according to data provided by the university.

The median age of people moving from King County was 19. The median age of all newcomers was 23, well below the countywide median age of 36.2 years.

The 2007-11 American Community Survey did not include newcomers' ages, so age information is from the 2006-10 survey.

The results for Pierce County were similar. The county that includes Tacoma was the third largest source of Western students, and the median household income of people from there was $23,000. The median age was 19.

The university's influence in other nearby counties was less pronounced. Newcomers from Island County, for example, had a median income above $50,000. Only 6 percent of new residents from Island County were incoming freshmen at Western.

To see a migrant population not influenced by Western's enrollment, look no farther than California. The median age of people moving here from California was 52, and less than 4 percent of people from California enrolled as freshmen at Western. This suggests Whatcom County might be a retirement destination for Californians, and well-heeled ones at that. The median income of people from California was about $68,000, or 33 percent better than the countywide median.

The statistics on people from Asia tell still another story. Median household income was $81,000 a year, or 57 percent above overall county income.

Most Asian immigrants to this part of the world are from China, which has a median income of $2,100 a year, according to a 2013 survey from Peking University. Even so, the income of Asian immigrants to Whatcom County sounded right to Baozhen Luo, a native of China and assistant professor of sociology at WWU.

"It doesn't surprise me at all," Luo said. "I know in Whatcom County, some of them have made quite a fortune in China to be able to immigrate into the United States."

There's another class of Asian immigrant that also contributes to the high household income numbers, Luo said.

"Newer immigrants especially tend to have family businesses, so the entire family, five, six members or more, could be working one family business," she said. "That does not necessarily mean individually they have a higher income."

HERE ARE NEW RESIDENTS FROM?

1. King County 2,096

2. Snohomish County 1,132

3. California 890

4. Island County 600

5. Skagit County 419

6. Pierce County 411

7. Asia 403

8. Thurston County 391

Source: U.S. Census Bureau annual migration figures, 2007-11

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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