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Thursday, June 28, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State population just shy of 6.5 million

The Associated Press

Washington's population continues to slowly increase, growing by more than 100,000 people in the past year to nearly 6.5 million residents.

Much of the incoming tide of new residents comes from California.

The new population estimate, which the state released Wednesday, says Californians account for up to half of the in-migration. At least 34,000 headed north to Washington and applied for driver's licenses. That's a little lower than the 38,000 reported in 2006 and a peak of about 40,000 a year in the early 1990s.

About two-thirds of the growth can be attributed to people moving into the state looking for work, said Theresa Lowe, the chief nose-counter for the governor's budget office. Unemployment remains at historic lows.

"As always, continued population growth in Washington depends on how our employment opportunities stack up against what other states have to offer," Lowe said. "Washington still appears to be in a good position to add nearly 1 million people over the present decade and reach 6.8 million by 2010."

The estimated growth, 112,400 people, puts the latest state population at 6,488,000 as of April 1, an increase of 1.8 percent in the past year, according to the state report. That growth is a bit slower than in recent years.

The U.S. Census Bureau also released new numbers on Wednesday showing that Vancouver remains the fastest-growing large city in the state.

Seattle continued to grow at a healthy pace, adding 19,000 residents, the highest number in the state. Seattle grew 3.4 percent to 582,454 people, the 23rd-largest city in the U.S., just ahead of Washington, D.C., and just behind Boston.

Spokane remained just ahead of Tacoma in their perpetual battle for the title of second-largest city, according to census estimates for the period ending July 1, 2006.

Vancouver, across the Columbia River from Portland, has added more than 15,000 people since the 2000 census, growing to 158,855. The growth rate of 10.6 percent was easily the highest in the state among cities of more than 100,000 residents.

Much of that growth involves Vancouver's status as a livable bedroom community of Portland, with lower housing costs and better schools than on the Oregon side of the river, said Gerald Baugh, in charge of business development for the city.

Spokane grew 0.6 percent to 198,081 and is the 103rd-largest city nationwide. Tacoma grew 1.5 percent to 196,532, the 107th-largest city. Bellevue grew 5.1 percent to 118,186.

Those were the only Washington cities of more than 100,000, although Everett is closing in with 98,514 residents.

Rounding out the top 10 cities in Washington were Federal Way (84,166 residents), Spokane Valley (83,533), Kent (83,501) and Yakima (82,805).

The state's overall population growth since 2000 has been concentrated in Western Washington, with the largest seven-year gains being increases of 124,254 in King County, 89,682 in Pierce County, 80,276 in Snohomish County and 69,762 in Clark County.

But the fastest-growing counties, according to percentage change since the 2000 census, are Franklin, 36.6 percent; Clark, 20.2; Kittitas, 14.8; and Benton, 14.3. All but Clark are in Eastern Washington.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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