Population reachest highest point since 1987

D.C. grew second-fastest in the nation over the past year, bringing its population to its highest level in 25 years, according to census data released Thursday.

The number of residents in the District jumped from 619,020 in 2011 to 632,323 in 2012 -- a nearly 2.15 percent increase. That rate was barely topped by North Dakota, which grew 2.17 percent in the midst of an oil boom.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The top states
State 2011 population 2012 population Approximate change
1 North Dakota 684,740 699,628 2.2%
2 District of Columbia 619,020 632,323 2.1%
3 Texas 25,631,778 26,059,203 1.7%
4 Wyoming 567,356 576,412 1.6%
5 Utah 2,814,347 2,855,287 1.5%
6 Nevada 2,720,028 2,758,931 1.4%
7 Colorado 5,116,302 5,187,582 1.4%
8 Arizona 6,467,315 6,553,255 1.3%
9 Florida 19,082,262 19,317,568 1.2%
10 South Dakota 823,593 833,354 1.2%
17 Virginia 8,104,384 8,185,867 1.0%
23 Maryland 5,839,572 5,884,563 0.8%

The populations of neighboring Maryland and Virginia also increased, though at slower paces. Maryland rose from 5,839,572 residents in 2011 to 5,884,563 in 2012, a nearly 0.8 percent uptick, while Virginia's population climbed 1 percent, from 8,104,384 to 8,185,867.

The District's population has climbed every year since 2005 as it transforms after decades of residents moving out. The number of residents passed 600,000 in 2010 -- the first time since 1991 it reached that mark.

Aaron Keith has witnessed the changes in his neighborhood as more young professionals have moved in. "That building is a year old, that building just got finished, and they started working on that one a few months ago," the 23-year-old law student said, gesturing at the luxury apartments that have been sprouting like weeds around the NoMa Metro station since he arrived a year and a half ago.

Mayor Vincent Gray credited improvements in city education, infrastructure and services for the increase.

"Anyone who lives in the District or spends time here already knows what these Census Bureau figures confirm: that the District is on the move," he said. "People are voting with their feet, and they want to live in D.C."

The main driving force, though, has been the region's ability to weather the recent recession thanks partly to its plethora of government and government-reliant jobs, according to Howard University sociologist Roderick Harrison.

"The trend has reached a point where it's spilling over from one neighborhood to another," Harrison said. "It will continue as the economic drivers continue, which I think they will for the foreseeable future."

Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning, said that although the population increase presents an opportunity in terms of development and tax revenue, it also creates challenges as the District works to accommodate so many more people.

"This creates additional demand for housing at every income level, and it means we need to continue to diversify our transportation choices," Tregoning said. "There are lots of challenges, but they're challenges that other cities would love to have."

One major question mark is whether the District will keep residents like Keith as they get older, start families and have children to send to school. Tregoning pointed to D.C.'s push for universal prekindergarten as a first step in retaining young parents and their children.

"Because of the nature of our school choice environment, it means doing a lot of sophisticated analysis and guessing to see how and where schools are going to grow," she said. "Those are enrollees that are ours to lose."