Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Census data show rural population lagging, and giving a slight Republican tilt to reapportionment of House seats

Rural and urban population change by county over the past 50 years and past 10 years
(Daily Yonder maps; click the image to enlarge them or click here for the interactive version)

U.S. population growth over the past decade slowed to its lowest rate since the Great Depression, according to data released Monday by the Census Bureau. Population growth has mostly concentrated in cities and suburbs, especially in the South and West. That gives Republicans a slight edge in the reapportionment of U.S. House seats, but it's a mixed bag, politically.

"The first numbers to come out of the 2020 Census show the U.S. population on April 1, 2020 — Census Day — was 331.5 million people, an increase of just 7.4 percent between 2010 and 2020. It is the second-slowest rate of expansion since the government began taking a census in 1790. In the 1930s, the decade with the slowest population growth, the rate was 7.3%. Unlike the slowdown of the Great Depression, which was a blip followed by a boom, the slowdown this time is part of a longer-term trend, tied to the aging of the country’s white population, decreased fertility rates and lagging immigration," Tara Bahrampour, Harry Stevens, and Adrian Blanco report for The Washington Post. "Most of the loss there has been in rural areas, where job losses and outmigration started several decades ago and continue to reverberate."

For the first time in five decades, more than half of U.S. counties have lost population. Two-thirds of rural counties lost population over the past decade, compared with just over one-third of metropolitan counties. "The geographic inequality that developed over the last 50 years has intensified and broadened in the last 10," Robert Cushing reports for The Daily Yonder. "The traditional areas of population loss have metastasized. Much of the Deep South 'Black Belt' shows losses, as does the Appalachian region all the way to New York. The losses in the Plains have spread and now much of the Midwest and Upper Midwest also record a decline in population."

The Post notes, "West Virginia shrank most radically, losing 3.2% of its population. That continued a decades-long downward trend and reflects out-migration and aging of the population. The state, which is more than 90 percent white, is the only one to have a smaller population compared to 1950, when it peaked at slightly over 2 million people. West Virginia is also one of just two states where the deaths exceeded births over the decade (the other is Maine, which grew because it had a higher rate of in-migration)." Maine is the most rural state. West Virginia's median age is "between 42 and 43, compared to the national average of 38," the Post reports. "The state is projected to keep shrinking through 2040, according to the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service." The Yonder has more data and analysis on the rural numbers, including an interactive county-level map and lists of counties that have gained and lost the most.

Population change and House seat change over last 10 years (Washington Post maps; click the image to enlarge them)

What does the population shift mean politically? Texas is gaining two seats, and Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon will each pick up one seat. Meanwhile, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are each losing one seat. It's unclear how the pandemic has affected population shift because much of it, including city-dwellers' flight to rural areas, happened after Census Day. It could have made a difference, though; New York lost a seat by 89 people and Minnesota held onto one by only 26 people, the Post reports.

"On balance, Republicans should benefit from these changes — not necessarily by doing better in the states losing seats, but rather by potentially picking up the lion’s share of the new seats in the states gaining districts," Kyle Kondik writes for Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Though more granular reapportionment data won't be out until later this year—the Census Bureau's deadline is Sept. 30—Kondik offers a state-by-state breakdown of how the reapportionment process may play out. Read more here.

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