New 2010 census data alter balance of power in Congress

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 21, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. population has reached an all-time high and Texas was the big winner among eight states that will gain seats in Congress, according to the first data released from the 2010 census.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke delivered the first results of the 23rd national census to President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning. The decennial head count shows that the official U.S. population is 308,745,538, nearly 10 percent larger than the 2000 census total of 281,421,906.

The 9.7 percent population growth rate from 2000 to 2010 was the second lowest of the last century, trailing only the 7.3 percent growth from 1930 to 1940, the height of the Great Depression.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves couldn’t estimate the how much the current economic woes have contributed to the last decade’s slow rate of growth. But William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a research center in Washington, said the economy was a key factor in slowing the growth of legal and illegal immigrants since 2006.

“The housing market crashed, jobs were hard to come by and people stopped coming,” Frey said of many immigrants.

Groves said that an estimated 60 percent of the 27.3 million new U.S. residents since 1990 were the products of births to U.S. residents, while the rest stemmed from immigration. The census doesn't ask about a person’s legal status, so Groves had no estimate on the percentage of U.S. residents who are illegal immigrants.

Census data help determine how more than $4 trillion will be divided among state, local and tribal governments over the next 10 years. The findings also inform public policy decisions on transportation, public health, senior services and neighborhood improvements.

In addition to determining how much state and federal funding will go to individual communities for the next 10 years, 2010 census population figures determine which states will gain or lose seats in Congress.

Texas added nearly 4.3 million residents from 2000 to 2010, and that 21 percent growth rate will give the Lone Star State four new members of Congress.

Texas, which has added congressional seats for seven consecutive decades, joins Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington as the states that will gain seats under the new congressional apportionment. Florida will add two seats, and the other states add one apiece.

The shift in the placement of congressional seats is likely to benefit Republicans, since most of the states that are gaining seats are GOP strongholds. In addition, President Barack Obama arguably will have a tougher road to re-election, since the reapportionment changes amount to a loss of six electoral votes in states that he carried in the 2008 election.

States that will lose one seat apiece because of population shifts are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. New York and Ohio each will lose two seats.

Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., said the loss of a congressional seat was “unwelcome news that continues a long string of Pennsylvania losing congressional seats.”

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., expressed glee at the new balance of power.

“As states draw new congressional districts to reflect this shift, we will certainly see more Republicans in the U.S. House,” said McHenry, the top Republican on the subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives.

The population used for apportionment comprises the resident population of the 50 states, and overseas military and federal civilian employees and their dependents who live with them. Residents of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico aren’t included because they have no voting seats in Congress.

California, which leads all states with 53 congressional seats, didn’t gain one for the first time in its history. Because of its high unemployment, budget problems and struggling housing market, Frey said California was becoming a “redistributor of population to the rest of the West” as people leave the Golden State for better economic opportunities in nearby states.

The population numbers reflect what demographers have known for decades: that people are leaving the ailing economies of the Midwest and the expensive Northeastern states for the warmer climates and better economic opportunities in the West and South.

Continuing a decades-long trend, the Southern and Western regions of the nation grew the fastest, at 14.3 and 13.8 percent, respectively. Nevada led all states, with 35 percent population growth since 2000. Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Texas rounded out the five fastest-growing states.

The population in the hard-hit Rust Belt region of the Midwest grew only 3.9 percent and the Northeast grew even more slowly, at 3.2 percent. Michigan, whose population dipped by six-tenths of a percent or nearly 55,000 residents, was the only state that had lost residents since 2000. Puerto Rico, an impoverished territory of the United States, lost nearly 83,000 residents, for a 2.2 percent population decline.

Other states with the slowest growth rates since 2000 were Rhode Island, Louisiana, Ohio and New York.

Despite predictions of low response rates among citizens because of the recession and supposed anger at the federal government, the 2010 census matched the 2000 head count, with 74 percent of households returning the questionnaires. The 2010 census also came in nearly $2 billion under budget. ON THE WEB

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