States in the West and South Are Set to Gain Political Clout

(April 2009) Population trends since 2000 suggest that states in the South and West will gain additional seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 Census. In the South, Texas is on track to add three seats, while Florida and Georgia could add one seat each. In the West, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah could each gain one more seat.

After each decennial census, population totals in each state are used to reallocate the 435 House seats. Therefore, regional shifts in population affect the balance of political power across states. For example, after the 2000 Census, New York and Pennsylvania lost two seats each, while Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas each gained two seats.

If the 2008 census population estimates accurately foretell the 2010 Census results, 14 states will gain or lose House seats and votes in the Electoral College, which picks the president after every election. Louisiana is one of the states at risk of losing a seat—a consequence of people fleeing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The Census Bureau estimates that between 2000 and 2008, Louisiana lost 58,000 people, although the population has rebounded somewhat during the past two years.

Seven states in the Northeast and Midwest could also lose House seats: Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (see Table 1).

Table 1
Projected Change in House Seats in 2010, by State

State House Seats Projected House Seats
2000 2010 +/-
Arizona 8 9 1
Florida 25 26 1
Georgia 13 14 1
Iowa 5 4 -1
Louisiana 7 6 -1
Massachusetts 10 9 -1
Michigan 15 14 -1
Nevada 3 4 1
New Jersey 13 12 -1
New York 29 28 -1
Ohio 18 17 -1
Pennsylvania 19 18 -1
Texas 32 35 3
Utah 3 4 1

Source: Calculations based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program.

These projections reflect a continuing pattern of rapid growth in the South and West, and slow or declining populations in parts of the Northeast and Midwest. In 2006, the U.S. population topped 300 million, and with an annual population growth rate of nearly 1 percent per year, The United States is one of the fastest-growing developed countries in the world. But population growth within the United States varies across different states and regions.

States in the South and West grew by 1.3 percent between 2007 and 2008, compared with a 0.3 percent growth rate among states in the Midwest and Northeast. Arizona and Utah were the fastest-growing states during the year, with annual population growth rates over 2.5 times the national average (see Table 2). Population declined in Michigan and Rhode Island because of net migration out of those states. With the exception of Louisiana’s recent population loss, the trends we are seeing today are a continuation of the westward/southward expansion that took place during the past century.1

Table 2
Population Growth Rates for Selected States, 2007-2008

Fast Growth Population Growth Rate Slow Growth or Decline Population Growth Rate
Utah 2.5 Michigan -0.5
Arizona 2.3 Rhode Island -0.2
Colorado 2.0 Maine 0.1
North Carolina 2.0 Ohio 0.1
Texas 2.0 Vermont 0.1

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

What drives rapid population growth in the U.S. South and West? Immigration from Latin America is typically cited as the number 1 factor. But census estimates show that domestic (state-to-state) migrants outnumber international migrants in the five fastest-growing states by a 2-to-1 margin.2 Natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) also feeds rapid population growth in high-migration states. Migrants tend to be younger, and populations with younger age structures have a built-in population momentum. A large number of young people moving into a state contribute to an equally large number of births, which further increase a state’s population and capacity for growth.

Although people move for a variety of reasons, most long-distance moves are job related.3 Jobs attract new residents to high-growth states, and then those residents create further opportunities for employment because of the increased demand for new homes, infrastructure, and services for the growing population. However, given the recession that started in December 2007, fewer people are making these long-distance moves. The Census Bureau’s 2007-2008 population estimates revealed a slowdown in both domestic and international migration rates. Demographers and other analysts are eagerly awaiting the results of the 2010 Census, which will provide a more complete picture of population growth and redistribution since 2000.

Mark Mather is associate vice president, Domestic Programs, at the Population Reference Bureau.


  1. See Frank Hobbs and Nicole Stoops, Census 2000 Special Reports, Series CENSR-4, Demographic Trends in the 20th Century (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002).
  2. Not all domestic migrants were born in the United States; some are immigrants who arrived in New York, Los Angeles, or other gateway cities, and then fanned out to other parts of the country. However, a PRB analysis of data from the American Community Survey showed that only 11 percent of people who moved across state lines in 2006 and 2007 were born outside of the United States.
  3. Jason Schachter, “Why People Move: Exploring the March 2000 Current Population Survey,” Current Population Reports (May 2001): 3.