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Census Estimates Show Population Decline in 16 States

January 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
New York City

WASHINGTON – New Census Bureau estimates show 16 states saw population declines last year as the nation experienced its slowest overall growth since the Great Depression, a new Pew Charitable Trusts analysis shows.

According to the analysis, which first appeared on the Trusts’ Stateline Daily, the population of the United States grew only about 7% between 2010 and 2020, nearly mirroring the previous historic low, which was achieved between 1930 and 1940.

California, Massachusetts and Ohio had been growing over the past decade, their declines all coming in the past year.

Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania all saw their numbers begin to slip in 2019, while the remainder of the not-so-sweet sixteen — Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia — all began hemorrhaging population earlier.

The organization emphasizes that the numbers are just preliminary and do not reflect 2020 census counts. The agency is currently scheduled to release its final 2020 census numbers in March.

Those will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

Nevertheless, the population declines captured in the numbers that are already public suggest those states are about to enter a period of economic stagnation.

“Knowledge and living standards stagnate for a population that gradually vanishes,” wrote Stanford University economist Charles Jones in a September working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Tim Henderson, author of the Stateline piece, said the Census Bureau estimates suggest that New York and California, both hit early by the pandemic, had some of the biggest drops between mid-2019 and mid-2020, with New York losing about 126,000 people and California losing almost 70,000.

The annual estimates he used for analysis are based on births, deaths, construction permits and other records.

Also, Illinois’ population slide continued with a drop of about 79,000. New York and Illinois had the largest percentage drops in population, about two-thirds of one percent for each, Henderson wrote.

The big gainers were Texas, up about 374,000 people for the year, and Florida, up about 241,000.

In percentage terms, the data suggests the Mountain West states of Idaho (2.1% growth for the year) followed by Arizona (1.8%), Nevada and Utah (1.5%) grew fastest.

“The results mean New York is more likely to lose a seat in Congress and an Electoral College vote, and dim California’s hopes of staving off such a loss. Alabama also is in danger of losing a seat,” Henderson wrote.

Meanwhile, Florida could get an additional seat based on last year’s growth.

The full census will provide a lot more information and clarity on winners and losers, but the outcome of the decennial count also depends on how well the census was done at a time when the global pandemic up-ended normal processes and procedures.

A number of former Census Bureau directors and lawmakers have advised the Biden administration to take more time to review and process population figures to be sure they get them right.

“The question is whether the damage caused by the Trump administration can be rectified,” Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said during a recent interview.

The Urban League joined other advocacy groups and cities last year to sue the Trump administration over a decision to end the once-a-decade head count early.

Other “damage” inflicted on this year’s count include a failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire and a Trump order to figure out who is a citizen and who is in the U.S. illegally.

Critics say another Trump directive, meant to exclude people in the country illegally from the apportionment of congressional seats, shortened schedules to collect and process data.

They also contend that four political appointments to top positions inside the bureau by Trump also threatened the count’s integrity. The Office of Inspector General last week said two of them had pressured bureau workers to figure out who is in the U.S. illegally.

President Joe Biden moved quickly to revoke Trump’s order to produce citizenship data and the former president’s memo attempting to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the apportionment count.

The Biden administration also has pledged to give the Census Bureau the time it needs to crunch the final data. 

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