U.S. Population Shift Accelerates to South, West, Census Shows

The latest count of the U.S. population shows the demographic center of gravity continued to shift, advancing a decades-old movement of people and political clout away from the Northeast and Midwest.

The nation’s population grew 9.7 percent to 308,745,538 in the 2010 Census, with the fastest gains coming in the South and West. Ohio, New York and New Jersey are among the states that will lose seats in Congress because of the shift. States including Texas, Florida and Arizona are witnessing a fresh inflow of people from within the U.S. and beyond the nation’s borders and will benefit from more representation in Washington.

“The future of American politics and labor force growth are places that are growing because of the movement of minorities and immigration,” said William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “I kind of see it as a regional analogy to when people moved to the suburbs in the 1950s.”

When President Barack Obama was born in 1961, more than half the nation -- 54 percent -- lived in the Midwest and Northeast. Now, midway through his first term, 39 percent live there, the census data shows.

Echoes of Depression

The growth in the overall U.S. population, driven by an increase in Hispanic residents, was the weakest in seven decades as the worst recession since the Great Depression stunted immigration, the census bureau said.

Robert Groves, the bureau’s director, said gains by region varied widely: The Northeast grew 3.2 percent and the Midwest 3.9 percent; that was far outstripped by a 13.8 percent gain in the West and 14.3 percent in the South.

Southern and western states will add a net 11 seats in Congress, in what will set off redistricting battles in state legislatures across the U.S., the census data shows.

States in the Northeast and Midwest will shed a total of 11 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. That will take electoral votes away from states Obama carried in 2008, a possible boost for Republicans in the 2012 presidential race.

The states will use the data to redraw political districts now that the 435 U.S. House seats have been reallocated.

“It will set off an intense game of musical chairs,” said Andrew Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Republicans will have an edge in directing the redistricting because they gained state offices in last month’s elections.

Texas Wins Big

Texas was the biggest winner, gaining four seats, while Ohio and New York were the biggest losers, dropping two each. Another major gainer was Florida, which added two seats.

Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will each add a seat, while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will each lose one.

The Census Bureau underlined the demographic change by declaring the nation’s population center will move from near Edgar Springs, Missouri, to perhaps as far south as northern Arkansas.

The bureau describes the population center as a place from which all U.S. residents, in an imaginary, flat, equal landscape, would be perfectly balanced. In 1790, it was in Maryland, before moving across the Midwest in the decades that followed.

New Look

The population counts mark the start of a new look at America from the census. The data will be used by the government to distribute more than $400 billion in annual federal funding, by businesses to identify markets, and by social scientists to examine the changing demographics.

Yesterday’s release included only population. More data on race, ethnicity, housing and other variables will gradually be provided, beginning in February, for all levels of geography, from neighborhoods to states.

Still, it’s the overall population shifts that will have the most immediate political impact.

Congressional seats are reapportioned every decade after completion of the census, with each district to have roughly the same number of people, about 710,000 in the next decade.

The reapportionment alters electoral vote calculations because a state’s Electoral College vote is the sum of its House seats, plus its two Senate seats.

McCain States

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, and the elections have sometimes been close, such as when George W. Bush won with 271 electoral votes in 2000.

Of the eight states that gained at least one seat this year, five were won by Arizona Senator John McCain when he was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Obama carried eight of the 10 states that lost seats, including New York and Ohio. The only McCain-voting states in this group are Missouri and Louisiana, which lost one of its seven seats after residents fled from Hurricane Katrina.

Much of the population gain for states like Texas is the result of Hispanic growth. Hispanics account for about 36 percent of the state’s population, the latest census estimates show.

In 2008, Hispanics voted for Obama by a ratio of more than 2-to-1, according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center in Washington. The role Hispanic population growth will play in the nation’s politics won’t be fully known until the new districts are drawn.

California’s ‘Migration Losses’

This redistricting marks the first time California didn’t win an additional U.S. House seat. The nation’s most populous state has 53 seats.

“What this census number suggests is that the international immigrants that we have received have been offset by domestic migration losses to other states,” said Hans Johnson, director of research at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco.

The census bureau will roll out in February and March detailed block-level data needed to redraw the districts. That information will be loaded into mapping software, and the states will begin building their new districts over the following months.

Redistricting is primarily handled by state lawmakers in some states, while others rely on independent commissions that are meant to reduce the role of political calculations in the process.

Republican Edge

With a net gain of six seats in the November elections, the Republicans will occupy governor’s offices in 29 states starting next year. They also will control 25 state legislatures -- including in Ohio, North Carolina and Michigan -- boosting the party’s power in statehouses by the most since 1928, the National Conference of State Legislatures said.

New York lost ground in the House for the seventh consecutive reapportionment, dropping from 29 seats to 27. As recently as 1940, New York had 45 seats. In 2013, it will have as small a House delegation as it had in 1810.

Nevada led states with the biggest gain in population during the decade, at 35.1 percent, followed by Arizona with 24.6 percent, Utah at 23.8 percent, Idaho at 21.1 percent and Texas at 20.6 percent. Michigan was the only state to lose population, dropping 0.6 percent. The five states with the smallest growth rates were Rhode Island, 0.4 percent; Louisiana, 1.4 percent; Ohio, 1.6 percent; New York, 2.1 percent; and West Virginia, 2.5 percent.

The U.S. has the lowest median age of any of the Group of Seven nations, according to United Nations’ estimates for 2010. Youthfulness is one variable for future growth because younger people tend to have more children.

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