Stateline Story

States In South, West Big Winners In 2000 Census

The historic movement of Americans away from the northeastern states to the west and southwest continued over the last decade, the Census Bureau reported Thursday, and as of 2003, the make-up of the U.S. House of Representatives will be adjusted to reflect the population shift.

At a press conference that included the unveiling of a U.S. map as if it were a work of art, bureau officials trumpeted the first result of their just completed 2000 census , the once-per-decade head count prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.

"Never have we been so diverse, never have we been so many and never have we been so carefully measured,'' said Kenneth Prewitt, Director of the Census Bureau.

Overall, the survey found that the national population has increased by 13 percent since 1990, from 248.7 million to 281.4 million -- a "big jump" according to Prewitt.

Every state saw its population increase, with only the District of Columbia suffering a loss. Growth was most rapid in Georgia and in the mountain states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

The primary job of the decennial count is to determine the number of seats each state will receive in the U.S House of Representatives. While the membership of the House is frozen at 435, its make-up is adjusted every ten years to reflect the demographic shifts within the country. As a result, at the start of each decade some states gain seats in Congress, while others lose them.

Based on these first census results, ten states -- including five in the Midwest -- will each lose a member of their Congressional delegations. New York and Pennsylvania -- the biggest losers -- will have to give up two of their representatives.

The losers in the midwest are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. In addition, the delegations of Connecticut, Oklahoma and Mississippi will drop by one a piece.

Eight states will pick up seats. Texas, Georgia, Florida and Arizona will each gain two new representatives. The delegations for North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado and California will grow by one.

Overall, twelve House seats will change hands.

Beginning in January, state legislatures will use the new population numbers to reshape the boundaries of their Congressional districts.

New York's governor, George Pataki told the Associated Press he was not surprised by the results. "We've been losing population (relative to other states), since the '40s," he said. "We've understood that turning around the state was something that was going to take quite some time."

For Indiana, the loss of a seat did come as a surprise. "We had been hopeful that Indiana would not lose a seat, and we worked very hard to make sure all Hoosiers were counted in the Census," Gov. Frank O'Bannon said.

It is still to early to predict how the census will affect the political party breakdown in the Congress, which, come January, Republicans will control by seven seats. The first Congress affected by reapportionment will be the 108th, which convenes in 2003.

A population shift to the mountain and southern states may mean good news for the Republican party, which tends to be stronger in those regions.

But, the Census bureau has yet to release specific data that will explain exactly which areas of these states are growing the most quickly. In Arizona, for example, the influx of people from the north appears to have blunted the state's once ultra-conservative bent.

One surprise of the new data was the extent of the population growth in the southeast, a further reversal of a mass exodus from the region six decades ago. Three of the eight states to gain representatives are in the southeast, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

Georgia's population grew by 26 percent over the past decade, the sixth highest rate of growth in the nation. Its legislature will now have 13 congressional districts to reshape.

While California remains the nation's most populous state, Texas has outgrown New York and now is the nation's second biggest. New York is number three, Florida number four.

Illinois' population has now surpassed Pennsylvania's. The two are the fifth and sixth most populated states.

As has been expected, census officials reported that Nevada is the fastest growing state, with a population explosion of 66.3 percent over the past ten years. Arizona is second. Its population increased 40.

In addition to determining the composition of the Congress, the census numbers will also be used to apportion among the states some $200 billion in annual federal spending. It will also change the composition of the electoral college, the body that casts the deciding votes in the presidential contest.

In March, the Bureau plans to release the next batch of data from the census, raw population numbers and a set of adjusted numbers that will reflect the bureau's estimate of the number of Americans it missed in the head count. The use of sampling to correct for errors in the census has raised the hackles of Republicans on Capitol Hill, who view it as a power grab by the Democrats.

Democrats have long argued that the census undercounts some of their most loyal constituents, primarily urban dwellers and minorities.

Subsequent reports will reveal such things as the racial make-up of the country, the percentage living in poverty and the number of same-sex households.