Population shifts show Sun Belt poised to gain in Congress

Population shifts show Sun Belt poised to gain in Congress

Sun Belt states are likely to gain seats and influence in Congress after the next U.S. Census, according to yearly population growth estimates released this week.

Southern and Western states growing fast enough to gain new seats in the House of Representatives will take those seats from states in the Rust Belt and the Upper Midwest, where population growth has slowed as economic opportunities have moved elsewhere.

The Texas delegation stands to gain three seats after the 2020 Census, bringing its total to 39, according to an analysis conducted by demographer Kimball Brace at the firm Election Data Services. That would mark the fourth consecutive reapportionment process in which Texas gains multiple seats.

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Florida has grown fast enough to earn two new seats, growing its delegation to 29 members. That would make Florida's delegation the third-largest in the House, surpassing New York for the first time.

Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon are all expected to add one seat to their delegations, if current population trends hold.

Montana teeters on the brink, growing fast enough that it is close to adding back a second seat in the House. Montana had two seats until the 1990 Census and the 1992 elections, when two incumbents faced off against each other.

Illinois will lose at least one, and possibly two, seats after the next round of reapportionment. It would mark the fifth consecutive decade in which the Illinois delegation has shrunk.

New York, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Alabama are all projected to lose a seat in the House. Some projections show Minnesota losing a seat. 

After the Census Bureau conducts its count every 10 years, seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allocated using what's known as the Huntington-Hill method. All 50 states get their first seat in Congress, then the remaining 385 seats are allocated by priority numbers.

Because California has the largest population in the country, it receives the first allocated seat — the 51st seat in the House. Texas, the second-largest state, receives the second allocated seat, or the 52nd seat. After the 2010 Census, because of its size, California received the third, sixth and 10th seats, too, according to an official calculation released by the Census Bureau.

During the last reapportionment process, Minnesota received the very last seat allocated, the 435th seat in the House. North Carolina just missed receiving a 14th seat in Congress; its delegation would have grown if the House's membership expanded to 436 seats.

This time, short-term population estimates show Rhode Island would hold on to its second district, by a margin of just 157 residents. New York would have received the next, or 436th, seat, a seat the Empire State would gain if it added just another 2,932 residents. Longer-term projections show Minnesota and California battling for the 435th seat.

The results, and the consequent increases and decreases in state congressional delegations, will not be finalized until after the 2020 Census. And something as seemingly inconsequential as the weather can cost a state dearly. 

Brace pointed to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit Louisiana in 2005; until those storms, population figures showed Louisiana would easily hold on to all of its House seats. After so many people displaced from the storms moved to Texas, Arkansas and other states, Louisiana lost a seat after the 2010 Census.

Three major storms hit the United States this year: Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Irma hit the Miami and Gulf Coast area, and Maria slammed into Puerto Rico. All three storms took place after the Census Bureau conducted its count for this year, meaning their impacts will not be clear until 2018 population estimates are released next December.

Brace also said a handful of other unknowns will impact final population counts. The Trump administration has not released guidance about whether college students, members of the military and prison inmates will be counted as residents of the areas where they live temporarily or the areas where they live more permanently. 

The Trump administration has yet to name a director or a deputy director of the Census Bureau, less than two and a half years before the agency will conduct a count estimated to cost $15 billion. Many observers are worried that the bureau has not tested the technology it hopes to rely on to conduct the most accurate possible survey.

“The change in administration and the lack of a Census director could have a profound impact on how well the 2020 Census is conducted, and therefore the counts that are available for apportionment,” Brace wrote.

The yearly population trends released by the Census Bureau show a centurylong trend of Americans moving south and west, away from the major East Coast cities and once-vibrant manufacturing and resource-producing hubs that were once the focal points of the national economy. The westward migration has meant states such as New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and even Illinois have seen the size of their delegations in the House cut almost every 10 years since the early part of the 20th Century.

Other states are likely to see their delegations shrink to record lows. West Virginia's delegation would shrink to two members for the first time in the state's history, if the current trends hold. Rhode Island would become the eighth state to have just a single member in the House, for the first time since the nation's founding in 1789.

The Census Bureau said on Wednesday that the nation's population stood at 325.7 million, up 2.3 million from the year before. Half of that growth happened in just four states: Texas, Florida, California and Washington. Three other states — North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona — added more than 100,000 residents last year.

Mountain West states are growing faster than any other region. Idaho, Nevada and Utah were the three fastest-growing states in the nation last year, and Arizona and Colorado both cracked the top 10. Of the 10 fastest-growing jurisdictions over the past year, only the District of Columbia was not in the west or the south.

Eight states lost population over the past year, led by Illinois, which shrunk by 33,703 residents. Wyoming, North Dakota, Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alaska and Hawaii all saw their populations shrink.

The population changes are likely to slightly alter the electoral college and the race for the White House, beginning in the 2024 election. Brace said his calculations show President TrumpDonald John TrumpMia Love pulls ahead in Utah race as judge dismisses her lawsuit Trump administration denies exploring extradition of Erdoğan foe for Turkey Trump congratulates Kemp, says Abrams will have 'terrific political future' MORE would have netted a single additional electoral vote, if the 2016 map had been weighted for the post-2020 Census electoral college.