FEATURE » Census
Texas will be the big winner when the U.S. Census Bureau releases population counts next year.
The Lone Star State will pick up three Congressional seats—the biggest gain since statehood in 1845, according to projections from William Frey, an internationally known demographer at the Brookings Institution.
“(Texas) just happened to survive this housing bubble … its housing prices didn’t peak as rapidly as these other places and then it didn’t decline as much and its economy stayed pretty strong for most of the decade,” Frey said. That meant Texas was able to attract new residents, and it didn’t lose any.
In addition, Texas picked up residents following Hurricane Katrina, when many residents from neighboring Louisiana crossed the border for safety and stayed, he said. That’ll hurt Louisiana, which is likely to lose a congressional seat.
Economy Changes Census Projections
Louisiana isn’t alone in the loss column, and other states won’t see their usual growth patterns.
For the first time since the 1920 census, California won’t pick up a congressional seat, Frey said. California has been a big winner in the decennial census for the past nine counts. But its growth has slowed over the years, Frey said.
“Although they’ve grown in population because they’ve gained immigrants … they have lost internal migrants to other states,” he said. “Some of that has to be the growth of the rest of the West because of the relatively high housing costs in California compared to states like Nevada and Arizona.”
Other sunbelt states will pick up seats, which are based on census population counts, but it’s a different picture than it would have been if mid-decade projections had held. Projections changed when the economy slipped over the past few years because people haven’t been moving to other states.
“There’s always been, for 30 or 40 years, a big snowbelt to sunbelt shift,” said Frey. “It got the brakes put on in the last few years because of the recession and mortgage meltdown (because people tended to stay put).”
That’s good news for some snowbelt states, like New York, which was projected to lose two seats midway through the decade but now is projected to lose only one.
But states that suffered when the housing bubble burst will continue to feel the effects, Frey said.
Florida was expected to gain three congressional seats based on growing population numbers, but now is expected to gain only one, its smallest gain since 1940.
Arizona will gain one seat rather than two had the mid-decade projections held.
Nevada is gaining a seat, but likely would have gained more had it not been for the economic situation.
“We have the northern part of the country still losing to the South and West,” said Frey. And those population shifts have been more widespread in those two regions, according to Frey.
Frey based his projections in part on the American Community Survey, an annual count from the Census Bureau. The official numbers won’t be available until 2011 when the Census Bureau will release the bulk of information garnered in the census, which officially begins in March.
The new population counts don’t just affect congressional boundaries. States also draw the lines for legislative districts every 10 years.
“By rules of the states, some of these have to be within points of a percentage,” said Richard M. Leadbeater, industry solutions manager for ESRI, a software company that specializes in geographic tools and works with state governments and federal agencies to tie population databases to geography.
“Think about drawing those boundaries and trying to get that level of similarity between all those boundaries …,” he said. Having geographic information to match with the population information helps in redistricting, he said.
Redistricting has been a primary mover of the use of GIS in state government, Leadbeater said.
“The census alone has hundreds of attributes about the households they count and states have to process that,” he said.
Processing that information can provide invaluable information to states, he said. Leadbeater believes redistricting should be the beginning of the process, not the end, because of the database rich with information about a state’s residents.
“Wouldn’t it be nice for policymakers to understand their constituents a little better and use that data in policymaking?” he said.
About the Census
There are some big changes to the census this year. Every household in the U.S. will receive a short, 10-question survey. Previously, one out of six households received a long form that provided a snapshot of details on a community, while the other households received the short form.
Those details are now covered in the American Community Survey, which is administered every year.
But the census data is the official count, and states receive funding from federal programs based on that data—more than $400 billion that goes to states and communities annually, according to the Census Bureau.
That’s not all. Developers use census data to determine locations for new retail stores and housing, as well as other community facilities, according to the Census Bureau.
Because of the importance of the census data, many states and community organizations get actively involved in promoting participation in the census, according to William Frey of the Brookings Institution.
The census count actually begins in mid-March when U.S. households receive the census forms, according to the Census Bureau. But the count has already begun.
U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves and census takers traveled to remote villages in Alaska in late January to count residents before they leave for hunting and fishing grounds, according to a press release.
Across the country, the Census Bureau is teaming with state and local officials to kick off awareness campaigns. In the 2000 census, 67 percent of U.S. residents returned the mailed questionnaires, a spokesman said. The Census Bureau is hoping the shorter questionnaires will lead to a higher return rate.
Census takers will visit those households that did not return a questionnaire by mail from May to July.