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3 Takeaways From 2020 Census Apportionment Data

The U.S. Census Bureau yesterday released its first set of apportionment population and resident population counts for the nation and each state.
James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell | April 27, 2021, 12pm PDT
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January 6, 2021
Thomas Hengge

The first big data release of a Census process troubled by politics and a pandemic went public this week. The 2020 Census apportionment results seem almost tailor-made to add fuel to the fires of polarization and culture war , as the nation's growth slows to a historic crawl and population shifts to Republican-led states in the South and West—and away from long-time growth machines like California and New York.

A ton of news and analysis has been generated in response to the announcement, so before providing an link dump, here's a look at a few of the dominant narratives that has emerged in response to the data release.

U.S. Growth Slows

The growth rate of the population in the United States was slower between 2010 and 2020 than it has been since the 1930s. Despite total U.S. population growth outpacing some previous estimates, the reality in 2020 was far from the "population bomb" theory of environmental and social concern popular at the end of the 20th century. Still, population is primed to decline in the coming decades, and unless there's a post-pandemic baby boom, the country could be entering a period of population decline much sooner than anyone could have imagined even a few short years ago.

Census Reflects the Nation's Political Fragmentation

The reapportionment data has an obvious effect for the political realities of the United States, and the list of states that won seats (Texas, Florida, and North Carolina lead the list with two, one, and one new seats, respectively) versus the states that lost seats (California and New York lost one seat, along with Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Michigan) breaks down almost too cleanly along the political fault lines that have divided the country in recent years. This zero-sum game of winners and losers is also reflected in the quick work some urbanists made of weaponizing the new Census numbers as evidence for the cause of developing more housing. Still, while some see the shifting Census data as evidence of a victory for the Republican party, others see an opportunity for liberals to make the case for allowing new levels of immigration. Also, there is already evidence that the Republican-supporting track record of the states that gained new House representatives are shifting toward Democratic candidates as their populations grow.

Crisis of Confidence

The state of New York, home to the nation's most populous and culturally magnetic city, lost the final seat in the House of Representatives by a difference of 89 people—despite growing its population by 4 percent. The New York Times tied the loss of the seat to political dysfunction and an undercounted Census process, but others wondered what would have happened if there had been 89 fewer "Why I'm leaving New York" essays published on the Internet. The state of New York's number of House representatives has been declining since the 1940s, at least. California had never lost a seat in the House until now. Like with New York City, many on social media are blaming California's loss, also achieved despite a growth in population, on out-migration caused by the high cost of housing in the state. The New York Times, however, blamed the state's slowing growth on declining birthrates and changing federal immigration policies.

With those three narratives in place, here's a list of initial reading on the apportionment and population data release this week. The links below include the embedded links above as well as more local, state, and national coverage of the new Census data. Hat tip to All Things Census for such consistent sharing of Census stories.

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