Census reveals slow growth for Vashon, a trend since the 1990s

2020 Census data shows that Vashon’s population continues to age, and is 93.5% white.

By Alice Larson and Bruce Haulman

For The Beachcomber

Recently released 2020 Census data show that Vashon’s population grew by 431 residents between 2010 and 2020, a 4% rate of growth. The slow increase in the last decade continues a trend that began in 1990.

This has not always been the case. In the early 1900s, the island’s population grew nearly 200% (from 944 residents in 1900 to 2,810 in 1920). Because of the Great Depression, the increasing population slowed a bit but again began a rapid increase after World War II. From 1950 to 1990 the island population grew nearly 140% (from 3,889 to 9,309). Since 1990, population growth has slowed each decade, increasing only 19% — from 9,309 to the 11,055 residents counted in the 2020 census.

Here are some other things the first release of the 2020 data reveals.

One of the largest changes on the island is an increase in the Hispanic population – from 434 to 631 in ten years. The Census Bureau uses the designator “Hispanic” where others might use “Latinx” or “Latino.” These residents currently make up 6% of islanders. Growth in the Hispanic population is greater among adults, but still, the 189 children and youth who indicated they were of Hispanic heritage make up 30% of all those under age 18.

Racial statistics are more difficult to interpret primarily because of a change in the way individuals might have responded. Census surveys have always asked if respondents identify themselves as single or multi-racial, but people across the country seem to be changing how they think of themselves.

Similar to a trend seen nationally, there was a 172% increase (from 354 in 2010 to 963 in 2020) in the number of people on Vashon-Maury Island who reported being multi-racial. In this release of 2020 Census data, the primary racial categories included: White, Black/African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander. Any other response was grouped in an “other race” category. On Vashon, individuals self-identifying in this group increased 134% (from 131 to 306) since 2010. Future 2020 Census releases will provide a breakdown of exactly what “other races” includes.

Looking at only those who reported themselves as belonging to a single racial group, individuals identifying as White still make up the majority of islanders (93.5%). Those labeling themselves as Asian saw a ten-year growth from 148 to 230 individuals. On the other hand, compared to 2010 Census responses, 14 fewer people indicated they were Black or African American, and 27 fewer said they were American Indian or Alaska Native. This may not mean fewer Black/African Americans and fewer American Indians/Alaska Natives are living on Vashon, but instead reflect some people who, in the past, said they were mono-racial but in 2020 reported themselves as multi-racial or fall into the “other races” category.

The population of the Island continues to age. This Census information release only breaks the population into those under age 18 or 18 and older, so a detailed age analysis is not possible. However, the number of Islanders under 18 has decreased from 20% (2,068) of the population in 2010 to 16% (1,781) in 2020.

Looking at changes in specific age groups will be possible as the Census Bureau releases additional 2020 information. Although being “Hispanic” is a different question from that of race, it is interesting to note that just 14% of those classifying themselves as White only are under age 18, while this is true for almost double the Hispanic population.

Additional 2020 Census data reported the number of houses on the island. Only 84 new housing units were added in the last ten years. The slow growth of new construction during the past decade is not too surprising given the long-term impact of the 2008 economic collapse on the housing market, lasting into the mid-2010s, and the stoppage of construction as the COVID-19 pandemic began to emerge at the end of the decade.

Although there is a general sense that more “summer homes” were converted to year-round residences and more homes became VRBO or Airbnb lodgings in the past decade, this is not born out through Census statistics. Approximately 83% of all housing units were occupied, as opposed to being vacant, in both 2020 and 2010.

We will provide more 2020 Census analysis in the future, including a look at changes in different geographic areas of the Island and, as the information becomes available, a more detailed look at Island demographics.

— Alice Larson is a social service researcher by profession, and also the owner of Island Paper Chase origami gallery. Bruce Haulman is an island historian and the board president of Vashon Heritage Museum.