U.S. West and South Are Set to Gain Political Clout

(December 2007) In the South, Texas, Florida, and Georgia are poised to gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 Census. Texas is on track to add two 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, Pennsylvania and Florida lost two seats each, while Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas each gained two seats.

Some States Could Gain or Lose Power in Congress

If the 2007 census estimates accurately foretell the 2010 Census results, then 13 states will gain or lose House seats and votes in the Electoral College, which picks the president after the 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 2007, Louisiana lost 176,000 people, although the population has rebounded slightly in the past year.

Six states in the Northeast and Midwest could also lose House seats, including Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

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 1.4 percent during the past year, compared with a 0.3 percent growth rate among states in the Midwest and Northeast. Arizona, Nevada, and Utah were the fastest-growing states from 2006 to 2007, with annual population growth rates more than 2.5 times the national average (see table). 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

Population Growth Rates for Selected States, 2006-2007

Percent growth
Fast growth
Nevada 2.9
Arizona 2.8
Utah 2.6
Idaho 2.4
Georgia 2.2
North Carolina 2.2
Slow growth or decline
Vermont 0.1
New York 0.1
Ohio 0.0
Michigan -0.3
Rhode Island -0.4

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.


Migration From Other States Fuels Growth of South and West

What drives rapid population growth in the U.S. South and West? Immigration from Mexico is typically cited as the top factor. But census estimates show that net domestic (state-to-state) migration to Nevada exceeds international migration to that state by a 4-to-1 margin. In Idaho, the margin is more than 8-to-1. 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 Population Reference Bureau analysis of data from the American Community Survey showed that only 11 percent of people who moved across state lines in 2005 and 2006 were born outside the United States.

High rates of natural increase (the excess of births over deaths) also feed rapid population growth in high-migration states. Migrants tend to be younger, and populations with younger age structures have a built-in population momentum. Lots of young people moving into a state contribute to lots of births, which further increase a state’s population and capacity for growth.

Migration trends in slow-growing or declining states look very different. As domestic migrants leave these states to seek opportunities elsewhere, international migrants are moving in to fill the gap. In New York, for example, for every two people leaving the state during the past year, there was one person arriving from another country to help offset the population decline.2

Population Trends Linked to Job Growth

Although people move for a variety of reasons, most long-distance moves are job related. Therefore, it is not surprising that states with the highest rates of population growth since 1990—Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah—have also experienced the fastest rates of employment growth (download related graph, PDF: 96KB). Jobs attract new residents to high-growth states, and then those residents create further opportunities for employment through increased demand for new homes, infrastructure, and services for the growing population.

Interestingly, in a cluster of states in the Mountain West and Upper Great Plains (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming), employment growth has consistently outpaced population growth. Although these states benefit from low unemployment rates, they face challenges in attracting and retaining young adults and families, especially in rural farming communities that have been losing population for several decades.4

Mark Mather is deputy director of domestic programs at the Population Reference Bureau.


  1. 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. These figures do not represent the actual number of people arriving from other countries or leaving the state. Rather, they reflect the net gain/loss from international migration and the net gain/loss from domestic migration.
  3. Jason Schachter, “Why People Move: Exploring the March 2000 Current Population Survey,” Current Population Reports (May 2001): 3.
  4. Richard W. Rathge, “The Changing Population Profile of the Great Plains,” The Great Plains Sociologist 16, no. 1 (2005): 82-99.