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2020 Census Update: Steady as She Slows

The Census Bureau recently reported that the U.S. experienced its second-lowest population growth in its history. The Great Depression of 1929-39 outpaced the 2010-20 population decline.

Over the past decade, there have been fewer births, people are living longer, immigration policies have changed, and over 585,000 deaths have been reported in the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives in late 2019. When combined, these events were cited as contributors to the population decline.

As social, economic, and political events go, so goes the population. Growth was impacted by the American Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, from 1861-1865. The influenza pandemic of 1918 took its toll. People who survived the Great Depression can speak of its dire financial impact. Shifting immigration policies over the past few decades and consistent declines in Caucasian births during the same timeframe, helps put the downward population trend in context.

According to William H. Frey, Senior Fellow with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and an internationally regarded demographer, “Lowering immigration levels will not keep the nation from becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Even if the number of immigrants was reduced to zero, the percentage of the U.S. population that identifies as a nonwhite race or ethnic group would continue to rise.”

The slow and steady nationwide population decrease has occurred while populations have shifted amongst the states, particularly in the South and West. The 2020 Census results show that the Southern region of the U.S. now houses a strong plurality (38%) of the population. When compared to the 1970 Census, less than half (48%) of the U.S. population resided in the South and West. This trend toward the South and West is expected to continue because the generally lower cost of living and access to employment opportunities.

The impact of these interstate population shifts has political implications. States considered safe havens for Republicans and Democrats no longer fall squarely in a red or blue box. Georgia voters sent two democrats, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, to the U.S. Senate. Mark Kelly, the junior U.S. Senator from Arizona won a special election and defeated a Republican incumbent. In Colorado, Democratic challenger John Hickenlooper defeated a Republican incumbent. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senior U.S. Senator, spent more than $100 million dollars to defeat Jaime Harrison, a Democrat, in one of the most expensive races in South Carolina’s history. And many of Grahams’ Republican colleagues who faced similarly expensive challenges, narrowly managed to maintain their seats in the upper chamber.

As a result of the 2020 Census, seven congressional seats will be reapportioned within the U.S. House of Representatives. Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas will likely each gain one seat. Conversely, California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will likely each lose one seat. True to the changing population trends, the positive impact falls upon those in the South and West and the negative impact falls upon those states primarily in the East, with the exception of California.

The next Census Bureau data dump will include details about who moved where and will be released in a few months. The population numbers will tell their own story.


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