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April 2019

Region's in-migration shows signs of waning

April 5, 2019

Is King County's growth attributed to in-migration waning? Statistics from the state's Department of Licensing suggest it may be.

Seattle Times columnist Gene Balk analyzed DOL data and found the number of driver's licenses issued to new King County residents from out of state declined for the second straight year.

In 2016, more than 76,000 newcomers to King County received licenses, but that number slipped to 72,000 the following year. Last year, another decline occurred, with DOL issuing 65,000 licenses to King County residents who moved from out of state.

For the first two months of 2019, the lowest number of new driver's licenses (8,000) were issued to new arrivals from other states, the fewest during that period since 2013.

In his "FYI Guy" column, Balk noted double-digit declines also occurred in Pierce and Snohomish counties compared to their 2016 highs.

California continues to lead the list of "top exporter" of people to the Seattle area, typically accounting for about 20 percent of newcomer licenses, but its numbers are shrinking. Compared to 2016, in-migration from the Golden State dipped about 12 percent.

Some of the top feeders of new residents to King County had even bigger declines, and a handful are down by 25 percent or more from 2016: Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Arizona, Montana and the nations of India and China.

Among foreign countries, India and China had sharp declines, but three nations - Japan, Brazil and Kenya were up, along with the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

DOL notes its reports only include people who apply for a Washington state driver's license. People who don't drive and children are not reflected in the data.

Reports from other sources indicate fewer teens are obtaining a driver's license. In its 2015 "Monitoring the Future" survey the University of Michigan found the share of high school seniors across the country who have a driver's license fell from 85.3 percent in 1996 to 71.5 percent in 2015, a record low.

Another University of Michigan study found steadily declining numbers of millennials with driver's licenses. Its Transportation Research Institute found 76.7 percent of people ages 20 to 24 had a driver's license, down from 79.7 percent in 2011, 82 percent in 2008 and 91.8 percent in 1983.

Researchers there cited the emergence of ride-sharing services and the fact that "new vehicles are becoming less affordable for debt-strapped college students and recent grads" as likely factors.