US marks slowest population growth since the Depression

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The frame of new home under construction sits in a neighborhood under development in north Dallas, Thursday, April 15, 2021. The first numbers from the 2020 census show southern and western states gaining congressional seats. The once-a-decade head count shows where the population grew during the past 10 years and where it shrank. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

WASHINGTON – U.S. population growth has slowed to the lowest rate since the Great Depression, the Census Bureau said, as Americans continued their march to the South and West and one-time engines of growth, New York and California, lost political influence.

Altogether, the U.S. population rose to 331,449,281 last year, the Census Bureau said Monday, a 7.4% increase over the previous decade that was the second slowest ever. Experts say that paltry pace reflects the combination of an aging population, slowing immigration and the scars of the Great Recession more than a decade ago, which led many young adults to delay marriage and families.

The new allocation of congressional seats comes in the first release of data from last year's headcount. The numbers generally chart familiar American migration patterns: Texas and Florida, two Republican Sunbelt giants, added enough population to gain congressional seats as chillier climes like New York and Ohio saw slow growth and lost political muscle.

The report also confirms one historic marker: For the first time in 170 years of statehood, California is losing a congressional seat, a result of slowed migration to the nation’s most populous state, which was once a symbol of the country’s expansive frontier.

The state population figures, known as the apportionment count, determine distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year. They also mark the official beginning of once-a-decade redistricting battles. The numbers released Monday, along with more detailed data expected later this year, will be used by state legislatures or independent commissions to redraw political maps to account for shifts in population.

It’s been a bumpy road getting this far. The 2020 census faced a once-in-a-century coronavirus pandemic, wildfires, hurricanes, allegations of political interference with the Trump administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question, fluctuating deadlines and lawsuits.

Texas was the biggest winner — the second-most populous state added two congressional seats, while Florida and North Carolina each gained one. Colorado, Montana and Oregon all added residents and gained a seat each. States losing seats included Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The new numbers contain some surprises. Though Texas and Florida grew, the final census count had them each gaining one fewer seat than expected. Arizona, another fast-growing state that demographers considered a sure bet to pick up a new seat, failed to get one. All three states have large Latino populations that represent about half their growth, and this could be an early sign that Hispanics shied away from the Trump administration’s count.