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Urban America likely to gain clout after Census

Urban America likely to gain clout after Census
A decades-long trend of Americans moving to densely-packed urban cores is likely to sap rural parts of the country of their political power in coming years as a new reapportionment and redistricting process kicks off just three months from now.
 
New figures released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau show states in the Northeast and Midwest will continue to hemorrhage seats in the House of Representatives, while Sun Belt and Western states continue to grow.
 
But even in states where the size of congressional delegations won’t change, power is likely to shift toward cities at the expense of rural communities.
 
Long-term population estimates show the nation has grown by about 19 million residents since the last U.S. Census was conducted in 2010, to about 328 million people. Previously released data shows that growth has been concentrated almost entirely in the largest cities and counties in the country.
 
The 100 largest counties in America added a net 9.8 million people between 2010 and 2018, Census figures showed. Counties with populations of more than a quarter million account for three-quarters of the country’s net population growth.
 
Among the largest 100 counties, only 11 lost population — and all of those were in Rust Belt and Northeastern cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
 
By contrast, two-thirds of the 2,153 counties in America with fewer than 50,000 residents have lost population over that same period. Collectively, those counties have lost about 238,000 residents.
 
The exodus is most pronounced in the smallest counties in the country: The 1,541 counties that began the decade with fewer than 25,000 residents account for five-sixths of the population loss.
 
“It continues the trend that we’ve seen since the 1930s of the Northeast and the Upper Midwest losing, and the south and the west gaining,” said Kimball Brace, president of Election Data Services, which analyzes Census Bureau data and population trends. 
 
The figures suggest that 10 states are set to lose seats in Congress next year, almost all from the Northeast or the Rust Belt. Those states — Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia — have all seen populations decline in more than half of their counties.
 
In Rhode Island, where the congressional delegation is expected to drop to a single seat for the first time since 1788, four of the state’s five counties have lost population since 2010. Only Providence, the state’s largest city, saw gains. 
 
In Ohio, 59 of 88 counties have seen their populations decline in the last decade. Almost all of the state’s population gains have come in the Columbus area. And in Minnesota, where 44 of 87 counties have lost population, 80 percent of the net growth has come in the Twin Cities and their immediate suburban neighbors.
 
Illinois illustrates what is likely to be a dramatic shift of political power away from rural regions and toward the big metro areas. Of the state’s 102 counties, 93 lost population in the last decade. The only substantial gainers are counties in the Chicago suburbs, as residents leave the big city for cheaper real estate and safer streets. 
 
When Illinois loses one of its 18 House districts, legislators are likely to eliminate one of the six districts that represents a downstate area — five of which are held by Republicans.
 
Two of the 10 states set to lose congressional districts beginning in 2022 are outside of the Northeast or the Rust Belt. But in one of those states, Alabama, the story is similar to its northern neighbors: 44 of 68 Alabama counties have lost population in the last decade.
 
California has added about 1.8 million residents since the last census, but its pace of growth has slowed considerably in recent years as high housing costs and booming economies in other states have forced some residents out. If current trends hold, California will lose one of its 53 seats for the first time since it became a state.
 
Seven states set to gain seats have experienced big growth in their largest metropolitan areas. In Arizona, just three of the 15 counties have seen their populations decline, while population growth has been concentrated in metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson. Florida, expected to gain two seats, has boomed in Tampa, Orlando and Miami, while the rural Panhandle has been largely stagnant.
 
No state has grown faster than Texas, where 10 counties added more than 130,000 residents in the last 10 years. Harris County alone, home of Houston, has added 590,000 residents — almost enough for an entire congressional district on its own. Texas’s congressional delegation is expected to grow by three seats, the fifth consecutive reapportionment cycle in which the state has gained multiple seats.
 
Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are also expected to add one seat each. In those four states, far more counties have added population than lost population, though the growth has mostly been concentrated in the largest metro areas.
 
The consequences of the reapportionment process that kicks off with this year’s decennial Census are substantial, especially for smaller states set to gain or lose seats. Beyond political power bleeding from rural regions to urban cores, billions of dollars in federal funding are at stake.
 
“When you’ve got 53 [seats] already, losing one doesn’t probably make as much of a difference. When you’re Rhode Island, going from two to one, it does make a difference,” Brace said.
 
The latest population figures show how crucial an accurate Census count is, and why so many states are spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on Census awareness campaigns. California is only 98,000 residents away from keeping its 53rd seat in Congress. Florida is 23,000 residents away from gaining a third seat next year. 
 
If Montana loses just 2,800 residents, it would lose its historic shot at a second congressional district, according to Brace’s projections.
 
Rhode Island needs an additional 7,700 residents to keep its second district. The state legislature considered a proposal to pay new residents up to $10,000 each to move there for a year, money the bill’s sponsor said would be more than made up for by the federal funds a second seat would ensure.