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Republicans unlikely to see it, but census shows need for immigration

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Republicans are celebrating the early census numbers, but the overarching picture runs counter to the current economic and political posture of the party.

There will be a net gain of three House seats and electoral votes in states carried by Donald Trump, according to the 2020 census reapportionment numbers. He still would have been soundly defeated.

The 7.4 percent growth over the decade is the second slowest ever. If that pace continues, it’ll be ominous — with fewer younger workers supporting more older Americans. One of the most important correctives is immigration. The Trump-dominated Republicans have become the anti-immigration party.

While much of the micro data will come out later this year, experts say much of the population growth is with people of color and lower- to middle-income families. This is where President Biden is targeting his proposed legislation, opposed by Republicans.

“The picture of an aging society, and we’ll see, dependent on a racially diverse younger population and paying attention to their children,” says William Frey, an expert on demography at the Brookings Institution. “With some of their policies, Republicans are barking up the wrong tree long term.”

There may well have been an undercount of Hispanics; Donald Trump’s efforts to politicize the census may have been a factor. Texas, Florida and Arizona engaged in little outreach for the census. Each of these states got one less member of Congress — and presidential elector — than anticipated.

The Census bureau will do a recheck, and an outside group is doing an audit. Frey told me, however, while “not perfect,” and despite the obstacles of the pandemic and Trump, he suspects the professional experts at the bureau were pretty close to the mark.

The changes in House seats with the new census may tilt Republican, but the real edge is because they control redistricting in key states. Looking at recent statewide races in Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina — all under GOP redistricting control — Republicans, on average, enjoy about 52 percent support. Yet they have a 56-34 margin in the House of Representatives.

With an additional two seats in Texas and one each in Florida and North Carolina — and with experienced gerrymanderers in these states as well as Georgia — Republicans are likely to end up with more than 60 of the 93 House members in the next Congress.

Democrats will play the same games in states they control, like New York and Illinois, each of which loses a seat, but the numbers are smaller. And in some blue states like Oregon, where Democrats hold four of the five House seats, the additional seat after the census has to be Republican-friendly.

With the report, Michigan and Ohio also lose a seat. An independent commission — the best way to draw lines — is set in Michigan, but the Republicans still may find a way around it in Ohio.

Overall, these changes will make it hard for Democrats to keep their slim House majority next year.

Yet the population growth in the red states is not with voters friendly to Republicans. In North Carolina, it’s in the Raleigh and Charlotte urban-suburban areas. In Texas, University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray told me he estimates that 80 percent of its growth the last decade is in the non-white population.

Apart from the politics, it’s interesting to look at which states are experiencing booming populations. Conservatives attribute much of it to lower taxes in states like Florida and Texas. That motivates some higher income migrants, but climate and higher birth rates among minorities probably are bigger factors. On taxes, the population of Massachusetts, with a relatively heavy state tax burden, has grown at a far faster clip over the past ten years than neighboring New Hampshire, which has one of the country’s five lowest overall tax burdens.

Quality of life figures into migration. In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon, which will gain a congressional seat, and Washington state, whose population grew at twice the national average, are favorite destinations. Their tax burden is in the middle of the pack, but diametrically different: Washington has no state income tax and the highest sales taxes in the country; Oregon has very high income taxes — as a percentage of personal income the second highest in the country — and very low sales taxes.

Yet whatever the changes in individual states, America’s long-term economic outlook almost certainly requires more robust immigration. Immigrants, it’s estimated, several years ago added $2 trillion to the gross domestic product and more than $450 billion to overall tax revenues. Many are entrepreneurial, others do jobs that are hard to fill, and they are a younger force that can support our aging population.

This is a reality that will be apparent in the latest census, one that Donald Trump won’t let Republicans accept.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags 2020 Census anti-immigration demographic changes Donald Trump Joe Biden minority voters reapportionment Republican Party trumpism

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