TOPICS > Politics

Census: U.S. West’s Population Overtakes Midwest’s

December 21, 2010 at 3:56 PM EDT
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New Census numbers out Tuesday show that the U.S. population has grown to 308.7 million, but the rate of growth has slowed in the past decade. Census Director Robert Groves goes over the numbers with Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the new census numbers: what they tell us about significant shifts in the American landscape and the political impact.

First, the overview — the latest count released today shows the U.S. population has grown to more than 308 million people. But the rate of growth slowed from past decades, from a little — to a little less than 10 percent between 2000 and 2010.

In fact, that marks the slowest rate of population growth over the course of a decade since the Great Depression.

We look at what these numbers indicate about various regions and trends around the country, and then we look at their political ramifications.

First, Robert Groves, he is the director of the census, and he joins me now.

Mr. Groves, it’s good to have you with us.

ROBERT GROVES, director, U.S. Census Bureau: Thank you. Great to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we have grown as a people, but not as fast as in previous decades.

ROBERT GROVES: Absolutely. This is the first decade that we have gone over the 300 mark. So, it’s a notable event for that. Your mention of the 9.7 percent increase is also a notable thing. But that’s the result of a long-run trend, of gradually slowing the growth of the population.

This is very common in developed societies. Around the world, most of the developed world is slowing its rate of growth. This has to do with changes in fertility experiences in the population. And, also, even though all of these countries are experiencing immigration, that isn’t the — the net effect is a slowing of the growth.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But immigration is a part of the picture in this country?

ROBERT GROVES: Immigration is a part of our picture, as in most developed societies.

Over the last 10 years, a rough estimate would be about 60 percent of the growth we experienced was from the natural increase of the then resident population, about 40 percent from immigration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s talk about regions. It’s always interesting to see where growth has occurred. And we have a graphic to show our audience. What do you see, where it’s gained and where it’s gained less?

ROBERT GROVES: It’s a pattern that we have seen over and over again. For several decades, the Northeast and the Midwest has — is still growing. They’re still growing, but at a rate that is smaller than the South and the West.

This is also a notable decade. This is the first time the Western region is larger than the Midwest. The Midwest was the center of large-scale manufacturing. Things have changed. The West now, made up of the states that were the last to join the union, are now larger than the Midwest region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And take to us some of the specific states, because you looked at the five fastest-growing states and the five slowest-growing.

ROBERT GROVES: That’s right. Nevada is interesting, as it was last time, this decade, a growth rate of 35.6 percent. This is really large growth, but, last decade, Nevada had grown 66 percent in 10 years.

So, you have states throughout the decades that grow at very rapid rates. For example, between ’50 and ’60, Florida grew at about 80 percent over a 10-year period. Right now, most of the growing states are in the Western region.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Many people, I think, will point to the economy. And you mentioned birth rate, industrialized countries, far along in their development. How much of an impact has the economic recession had?

ROBERT GROVES: We can’t piece that apart yet.

People will jump into these numbers with a lot of analysis that will be much more specific. My hunch is that we will never be able to know the marginal effect of the recession, this recession we’re going through, on immigration and on fertility and things like that. It will be left to historians that compare many decades at once.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much do you know about why people are moving from one place to another?

ROBERT GROVES: Very little from these data.

We do ask people about where they — in the American Community Survey, this wonderful new sample survey we have in this country, we ask them where they lived a year ago. And that will be a source of migration data that will be really informative to the population.

But these data we released today have really no information in them about migration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But from that survey, which we took a look at, there is some interesting information in there about income groups and about ethnic — individuals of different ethnic backgrounds.

ROBERT GROVES: Absolutely. Those data show very clearly, I think, in the last release the suburbanization of the new immigrant populations, a new phenomenon.

So, we think of immigration in old terms, that it’s a coastal phenomenon and that it’s mainly an urban phenomenon. That’s changing in very dramatic ways. The dispersion of new ethnic groups throughout the entire country in little-bitty villages, as well as big urban areas, off the coast is a major phenomenon in the country. We will know that from the census data starting in the spring, as we release more data.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and, just quickly, what about in terms of income, where that people of means…

ROBERT GROVES: The American Community Survey findings there are similar to long-term trends. You know, if you look at the very lowest income groups, they are clustered, as they have been throughout our history.

The — the 18 counties with the lowest household income disproportionately are in the South region. This has been true for some decades in this country. The dispersion of the income is changing, as we have noted over and over again. The concentration in wealth in smaller portions of the population, that’s true in the data, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, arguably, the most important outcome of this, at least right now, is what you did — what you announced today. And that is how many — how congressional districts will change around the country. Give us the overview of what that…

ROBERT GROVES: The overview, the quick — quick story is that there’s a shift of 12 seats. It involves 18 different states for shifting. The states that received, added seats are disproportionately in the South and the West.

Texas received four seats. That sounds like a lot, but I remind us that, in 1960, California received eight seats from one census. So, the loss of seats is disproportionately in the Northeast and the Midwest. So, it follows that population trend that I — we talked about a minute ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re going to talk about that a little bit more in a minute, the politics of that.

But, you know, there’s a lot of discussion, has been a lot of discussion about the accuracy of these numbers. And, you know, what do you say to people about — in terms of what’s the margin of error here? And people always want to know, is there some sort of political overlay to what you do at Census?

ROBERT GROVES: Well, let me ask the second one first — answer the second one first.

The Census Bureau is a nonpartisan statistical agency. This is something I feel to my bones. This is the most important attribute of the Census Bureau, because, if you think about it for a minute, the only purchase we have on doing good for society is if people believe our numbers.

As soon as the public doesn’t find these numbers credible, we’re basically out of business. So, we do a lot of work to keep confidential the data provided for people and to keep political interference outside of everything. So, these numbers, hopefully, are the best our statisticians can do. And we will stand behind them.

How good the census is will take months to know. The signs so far are that this is a good census. Everything we’re seeing so far, all the indicators, say we did a good job and we will be proud of it. But we won’t know for sure for some months.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Robert Groves, the director of the census, we thank you for being with us tonight.

ROBERT GROVES: Great to be here. Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.