2020 Census results: key takeaways include declining growth
The first batch of data from the US Census Bureau shows a country growing more slowly and seeing its population shifting south and west.
The data released Monday was relatively basic, containing national and state-level population figures and details about how they affect state representation in Congress. Still, the results contained some surprises and indicated some consistent trends.
Five takeaways from the new census data:
Still sluggish growth to come?
The US population has grown to 331 million, a 7.4% growth rate from the last time the Census Bureau counted every person in the country, in 2010. That may seem like a big number, but c is actually the second slowest population growth rate in the census. ever recorded, second only to the 7.3% growth of the 1930s.
The slow growth of that decade was rooted in the Great Depression. The slow rate of our past decade had a similar beginning in the shadow of the Great Recession. The drawn-out recovery has seen many young adults struggle to enter the workforce, delay marriage and start families. This dealt a blow to the nation’s birth rate. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year and made things worse.
While US population growth has picked up after the Great Depression, demographers are not optimistic about its recovery anytime soon. Most predict even slower population growth in the coming decades. Americans are getting older: The median age in the United States is 38, up a year from 37 in 2010. Immigration had been declining even before the pandemic effectively stopped it. And many Republicans have largely backfired on the idea of immigration, legal or illegal, a new political barrier to the country adding more population rapidly.
“Unlike the Great Depression, this is part of a process where we’re likely to continue to have slow growth,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
This has potentially bleak consequences for the future of the nation. “The great demographic advantage the United States once enjoyed over other wealthy countries has evaporated,” tweeted John Lettieri, president of the Economic Innovation Group, after the census data was released. “Now there are more Americans 80 and older than 2 or younger.”
The great migration continues
The US population may grow more slowly, but it has continued its 80-year trend of moving south and west.
Florida, Montana and North Carolina each grew enough to add a congressional seat, while booming Texas gained two. Colorado and Oregon also won new seats, while Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania lost seats.
The snapshot tells a familiar story: Americans left the industrial Midwest and Northeast, in search of jobs and more affordable housing, new suburbs and vibrant cities.
But, surprisingly, the long-standing symbol of Americans’ search for the new and the next was not part of that story. California’s growth rate has not been sufficient to maintain its 53-seat delegation in the House. The nation’s most populous state has lost a congressional seat for the first time in its history, a fact that is already forcing debate over whether Democrats’ control of state government is to blame.
Good news for the GOP – for now
These demographic changes will quickly translate into political changes. The census data officially kicked off the redistricting process, in which states will redraw congressional and statehouse districts to accommodate new headcounts.
Monday’s news was generally good for Republicans. They control the redistricting process in Florida, North Carolina and Texas, which account for four of the seven new seats.
The two Democratic states winning seats — Colorado and Oregon — will not give that power to their Democratic-controlled legislatures. In Oregon, Democrats agreed to give GOP lawmakers an equal voice in exchange for a pledge not to delay further legislation. And Colorado voters took the drawing of district lines away from state lawmakers and handed it over to a nonpartisan commission.
The new seats are only part of the often fierce redistricting struggle. As early as August, the Census Bureau is expected to release detailed information showing, down to the block, where nearly everyone lives. New legislative maps will be redrawn in each state to ensure equal representation. But a party can gain an advantage by grouping its rivals into a single constituency or spreading them out so that they can never win an election.
Right now, the GOP controls more statehouses overall and has an advantage in growing states. Republicans only need a handful of seats to take control of the House of Representatives.
“I think Republicans, when all of this is done, will be in great shape to regain a majority in the House in 2022,” said Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, which coordinates the GOP redistricting campaign.
But there will be limits. Many of the new residents of these states are young people and voters of color, strong Democratic groups. It may be difficult for Republicans to maintain their edge for much of the decade, no matter how they draw their lines.
Having trouble counting Latinos?
In fact, the process was expected to go even better for the GOP. Texas was expected to win three seats, Florida two and Arizona one. These gaps came as a shock to demographers, and there were so few details in the data that it was difficult to understand what had happened.
One possibility is that Latinos were not counted correctly. Latinos make up a large segment of the population in the three states that did not get the expected seats. Trump pushed unsuccessfully to add a citizenship question to the census, sparking allegations that he hoped to intimidate Latinos into opting out of the process. The real count began during the pandemic when it was particularly difficult to reach certain populations.
The discrepancy between expected earnings and actual earnings may be the first sign of an undercount of Latinos. But it’s too early to tell without the more detailed data expected to be released in the fall.
“The initial results are surprising enough that once more details are released, we will be able to better determine how fairly and accurately the Latin American population has been counted,” said Arturo Vargas, president of the National Assn. elected and appointed Latino officials.
Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he was not yet ready to “sound the alarm” about an undercount, noting that growth among Latinos may have be helped New York avoid losing a second seat in the House.
A game of thumbs
This census was difficult for New York. Growth has been slowing for years, and there has been a particular exodus of people from his upstate region to northern and western New York. But at a press conference on Monday, Census Bureau officials revealed the state was just 89 people short of retaining all of its congressional seats.
Redistribution in Congress is a zero-sum game, with states dividing the House’s 435 seats by population. Minnesota narrowly edged out New York to avoid being the last state to lose a seat. If New York had had 89 more residents and all other states remained the same, the state would have kept its seat and Minnesota would have lost one.
Minnesota, which had the highest self-response rate in the nation, also won the last House seat in 2010.