Census shifts 19 House seats, mostly to South, West

December 27, 1990|By David Hess | David Hess,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Census Bureau made it official yesterday: Nearly all of the 19 seats in the 435-member House of Representatives that will shift in the Congress convening in 1993 will shift from Snow Belt to Sun Belt states.

Three states -- California, Florida and Texas -- will pick up 14 of those seats, and their congressional delegations together, numbering 105 seats, will account for almost 25 percent of the House. That is up from 20 percent in the current Congress.

Maryland's eight-seat delegation will stay the same.

In all, the Census Bureau reported, the nation's population is 249,632,692, an increase of 10.2 percent over the 1980 count of 226,504,825. Maryland's population, the agency said, is 4,798,622, up 13.8 percent from the 1980 count of 4,216,975.

Officials said the new figures were still tentative as census-takers and demographers continue to make spot checks around the country. This process will not be completed until July.

For purposes of establishing the apportionment of House seats, however, the latest number is official, and state-by-state breakdowns will be sent to state apportionment authorities between the end of January and the first of March.

After that, it will be up to each state to determine how to draw the lines for the number of House seats allotted to it in time for the November 1992 elections.

The bureau's head count spelled bad news for such states as New York, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois. New York will lose three of its 34 House seats, and the other states will lose two each.

Perhaps more devastating than the loss of political clout will be a decline in federal funding for scores of social, educational and health programs whose financing is keyed to population in each state.

Politically, the Census Bureau's latest count appears to be good news for Republicans. The new congressional seats not only are going to states where the GOP most likely will benefit, but states that have delivered the most Electoral College votes to Republican presidential candidates in the last few elections also gained electoral votes.

In announcing the figures, census officials acknowledged that they had not completed the counting process.

"That won't be done until next July," Census Director Barbara E. Bryant said. But the bureau estimates that any overcounting or undercounting that may be turned up in the government's final combing of the nation's population will have no impact on the way House seats are divvied up.

Ms. Bryant acknowledged that the population shift to Southern and Western states would have considerable impact on the way federal money is distributed for housing, community development, welfare, school aid and other programs.

But Michael R. Darby, undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs, said there was no way now to calculate how much money would be rerouted or to say precisely where it would go.

"It's ironic," said William P. O'Hare of the private, non-profit Population Reference Bureau, "that the states picking up the most congressional seats owe their population growth mainly to immigrants who won't be able to vote in congressional elections [in the near future]."

Mr. O'Hare, a widely respected expert on population studies, said that immigration was the chief factor in the nation's population growth over the last decade.

Mr. Darby said the latest figures "came out surprisingly close" to the bureau's initial estimates. Western states grew by 22.3 percent, Southern by 13.5 percent, Northeastern by 3.4 percent and Midwestern by 1.3 percent, he said.

Four states -- Iowa, North Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia -- lost population.

More than 6,000 local governments challenged the accuracy of a preliminary count that was based mainly on the April 1 census taken by mail. The Census Bureau responded with a series of recounts and an advertising campaign urging people who thought they had been missed to come forward.

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