New detailed Census data from the official 2020 count showed a continued trend toward a more diverse, less white-dominated country. An even longer-term trend of urbanization is also continuing. Here are some of the big takeaways:
There were some politically significant places where diversification is happening with particular strength and speed:
Rural areas in general continued to lose population, while cities gained them, as CNN notes: “Almost all of the nation’s population growth was in its cities, according to the Census Bureau. More than half of all counties saw their population decline since 2010. Most of the growth was driven by the South and West, while the Midwest and Northeast trailed behind.”
But no city grew more than New York City, as the Associated Press reports:
The Big Apple grew more than any other city in the United States over the last decade, according to census results released Thursday.
The population increased by more than 600,000 people to a whopping 8.8 million New Yorkers.
The political implications of the new data will have both benign and evil number-crunchers up for many hours manipulating maps as the decennial congressional and state legislative redistricting process (the primary purpose of today’s data dump) moves ahead. (Reapportionment between the states of congressional seats is already underway based on April Census counts of total state populations.) On the one hand, Republicans retain the upper hand in a large plurality of states. On the other, the continued loss of population in the very reddest rural areas will make the job of gerrymandering a bit tougher.
Aside from redistricting, the Census data will have a big impact on various formulas used for distributing federal funds. As a result, there will be serious questions as to whether this count, positive as it is in terms of diversification, may have missed a significant number of Latino residents in particular, as the AP report noted:
The start of the 2020 census for most U.S. residents coincided with the spread of the coronavirus last year, forcing the Census Bureau to delay operations and extend the count’s schedule. Because census data is tied to where people were on April 1, 2020, the numbers will not reflect the loss of nearly 620,000 people in the U.S. who died from COVID-19.
On top of the pandemic, census takers in the West contended with wildfires, and those in Louisiana faced repeated hurricanes. Then, there were court battles over the Trump administration’s effort to end the count early that repeatedly changed the plan for concluding field operations.
Future adjustments in the data may reflect findings of undercounts in particular communities, though not in time to affect reapportionment and redistricting decisions.
While diversification and urbanizations are trends that will likely help Democrats in the long run, the Census news could also encourage Republicans to intensify their efforts to put a thumb on the scale when it comes to voting rules and systems of representation. It’s important to remember that the population and the electorate are by no means the same thing. Schemes to skew the latter in the direction of the America of yore may come to dominate GOP strategy even more than in the recent past.