Census count gives Arizona 9th House seat - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Census count gives Arizona 9th House seat

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Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 10:02 am | Updated: 12:53 pm, Thu Dec 23, 2010.

Arizona will pick up only one additional congressional seat as the growth spurt of the early part of the decade sputtered at the end.

Official figures today from the U.S. Census Bureau show there were 6,392,017 people living in Arizona on April 1. Add to that for apportionment purposes another 20,683 people who are considered Arizona residents but living overseas.

That comes out to slightly less than 2.1 percent of the nation’s new official population figure of 309,183,463, including 1,042,523 overseas, largely military. It also means, according to Census Bureau computations, that Arizona is entitled to nine of the 435 seats in the U.S. House for the next decade.

The total also is less than the Census Bureau’s estimate that there were 6,595,778 Arizonans on July 1, 2009.

Today’s figures set the starting point for members of the Independent Redistricting Commission to re-divide the state into nine districts, each with about 712,522 people.

Accurate figures for each county and city, down to individual census tracts, will be forthcoming. But the trend -- at least according to prior estimates -- has been that the most rapid growth has been in Maricopa and Pinal counties.

Six of the current eight congressional districts already encompass some part of Maricopa County, a move made necessary a decade ago because of the population concentration there.

If there had been two additional seats, it would have provided more flexibility for commissioners to carve out smaller districts, including some with a more rural flavor.

So what happened?

Marshall Vest, an economist at the University of Arizona, said the issue of illegal immigrants can’t be ignored.

He specifically cited the 2007 law allowing the state to punish companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers. More recently, Arizona approved legislation to give police more power to detain and arrest suspected illegal immigrants, though that was not signed by the governor until after the April 1 count.

``There are just a lot of people with questionable legal status who no doubt left,’’ he said. Then there’s the question of those who were missed in the decennial count.

Vest said federal officials eventually will provide a state-by-state estimate of the ``undercount.’’

``But if history is any guide, the undercount is fairly large in Arizona probably for the age-old reason that we’re a border state and there are just a lot of people here who don’t want to be counted,’’ Vest said, even with Census Bureau assurances that they were simply doing a count and not looking to check legal status.

Beyond that, it would appear that Arizona is not quite the magnet it once was for those seeking to relocate, whether from another state or another country.

Consider: The Census estimates released for July 1, 2004 showed a 3.0 percent growth in resident population over the prior year. By 2005 the pace has quickened to 3.5 percent; by 2006 it hit 3.6 percent.

But then the economy began to go south.

For 2007 and 2008 the year-over-year growth clocked in at 2.8 percent each. And the Census Bureau estimated the difference between 2008 and 2009 at just 1.5 percent.

Economists have said several factors figured into the decision by some people to stay put.

- As unemployment crept up, they were unable to find a new job.

- When the stock market dropped, those hoping to retire to the Sun Belt found their 401(k) plans not worth nearly what they had hoped.

- The decline in home prices left some people unable to sell their home to move to Arizona.

And Vest said it’s possible that others who lived in Arizona packed up and moved elsewhere to follow the jobs.

Still, that early decade spurt helped Arizona clock in with a decennial growth of 24.6 percent, a rate second only to Nevada and far ahead of the 9.7 percent national figure.

From a numeric stand, though, Arizona was only sixth in terms of actual population increase since 2000 at 1,261,385. Texas led the nation, followed by California, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

That, however, still managed to put Arizona as the 16th most populous state in the nation now, up four slots from the 2000 census. California retained its title as having more people than anyone else, with Texas staying in the No. 2 slot.

Even with only one additional congressional seat, there are benefits to the state.

Most notable is that Arizona will have 11 votes -- the combined number of House and Senate members -- in the electoral college for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 presidential races. It takes 270 to win, with Washington, D.C. getting three electoral votes.

And with Arizona being a winner-take-all state, that makes the it more important for politicians who want to win the vote to visit the state.

Consider: Arizona now has as many electoral votes as Massachusetts, Indiana and Tennessee. And it now has an edge over states like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maryland.

The big population surge, though, was in Texas, which added nearly 4.3 million people in the last 10 years. That’s the equivalent of two thirds of Arizona’s total population.

That made it the big winner on the representation and electoral front, picking up four more congressional seats on top of the 32 it already had.

But California’s 3.9 million decade-over-decade population growth, on top of its base, wasn’t good enough to give that state more representation on Capitol Hill. It stays with 53 people in the House.

Florida is adding two seats. And, aside from Arizona, other states picking up an additional seat include Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.

Because the House is fixed at 435 seats, the gains of Arizona and elsewhere come at the expense of other states whose growth did not keep pace with the national average.

The big losers are New York and Ohio, both shedding two House members. Losing one seat each will be Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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