Census Shows South, West Lead Population Growth

New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the total population of the nation has risen to more than 308 million. The population increased by 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, the slowest rate of growth since the 1930s. The big winners were the South and West, and some Northern and Midwestern states will lose representation.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

We learned today how many people live in the United States.

Mr. ROBERT GROVES (Director, Census Bureau): As of April 1, 2010, according to the 2010 Census, the resident U.S. population is 308,745,538 persons.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: So, roughly speaking, a little less than 309 million people. That was Robert Groves speaking. He is the Census Bureau director. He also revealed that the U.S. population grew over the past decade at the slowest rate since the Great Depression. The census numbers show a continued shift in population from the Northeast and Midwest to the Sun Belt.

And that will mean a similar shift in congressional seats, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER: Commerce secretary Gary Locke said he performed a ritual this morning that's occurred only 22 other times in U.S. history.

Secretary GARY LOCKE (Department of Commerce): In accordance with the law and fulfillment of a constitutional mandate, I delivered the 2010 Census findings to the president of the United States.

FESSLER: And those findings reveal a growing nation, but one that isn't growing like it used to. Ten years ago, the U.S. had 281 million residents. Census director Groves says the new figure is only 9.7 percent higher, the lowest growth rate since the 1930s. And he says the recession was part of the reason.

There was also a major drain in population from Rust Belt states in the North and Midwest.

Sec. LOCKE: This is the very first decade in our country's history that the West region is more populous than the Midwest.

FESSLER: And that has implications for the allocation of the nation's 435 congressional seats. New York and Ohio will each lose two. Several others will lose one. On the flip side, there were winners in the South and West. Florida picked up two congressional seats, Texas picked up four. Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution says the nation's slow overall growth is not particularly surprising.

Mr. WILLIAM FREY (The Brookings Institution): We've had a pretty bad decade, especially the last part with the boom and the really big bust. And immigration has really come down. We don't have a good handle on how much immigration we're getting to this country, but we know that it's really lowered in the last couple of years, and that may have had a lot to do with it.

FESSLER: He says the new numbers also point out the importance of immigration for the nation's continued growth. Frey says immigrants were responsible for much of the increased populations in states that stand to gain congressional seats like Texas, Arizona and Nevada. But Jeff Wentworth, a Republican state senator from Texas, thinks his state's 21 percent growth reflects a lot of things.

State Senator JEFF WENTWORTH (Republican, Texas): I think it's a combination of a business-friendly environment, no state income tax, a great climate in terms of weather compared to a good part of the rest of the country, especially the Rust Belt area.

FESSLER: And a lot also has to do with jobs. Michigan, one of the hardest hit by the recession, actually lost population over the past decade - the only state to do so. And Ohio's population grew by less than two percent. California's growth was too small to earn it another congressional seat for the first time in its history. Wentworth believes whatever the cause, his state's growth will mean at least one thing.

State Sen. WENTWORTH: It just means increased influence and power for the state of Texas.

FESSLER: And, he hopes, for Republicans. Many of the states picking up congressional seats tend to vote Republican. Although, exactly how that all pans out will depend a lot on how states redraw their new congressional districts using other information to be released from the Census in the coming months.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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