Population growth 1980-2005


Because I recently wrote a column on the lessons of the past 25 years and because I also recently wrote in this blog on population growth from 2000 to 2005, based on the Census Bureau's recently released 2005 state population estimates, I thought I would take a look at the states' population growth over the past 25 years, from 1980 to 2005. The comparisons are between the 1980 census and the 2005 estimates.

I find the comparison especially interesting because we were told by so many experts in the years around 1980 that America's best days were behind us and that we could look forward to little more than stagnation. It hasn't turned out that way. The nation's population rose 31 percent between 1980 and 2005, from 226 million to 296 million. But growth was uneven. Only a few states grew at about the national average percentage rate: Maryland (33), Hawaii (32), and Tennessee (30). Some grew much more: Nevada (202–that's not a misprint) and Arizona (119) more than doubled; growth was robust as well in Florida (83), Utah (69), Georgia (66), Alaska (65), Colorado (61), Texas (61), California (53), and Washington (52). Two states, West Virginia (-7) and North Dakota (-2), and the District of Columbia (-14) lost population.

As in the 2000–05 period, growth was fastest in the Rocky Mountains, on the southern Atlantic Coast, and on the Pacific Coast. No state in the Midwest grew faster than the national average; only three comparatively small states in the East did: New Hampshire (42), Delaware (42), and Maryland (33).

Overall the nation's population grew by 69.9 million. More than half of that gain came in five states: California (12.5 million), Texas (8.6 million), Florida (8 million), Georgia (3.6 million), and Arizona (3.2 million). Other states with large absolute growth were North Carolina (2.8 million), Virginia (2.2 million), Washington (2.2 million), Colorado (1.8 million), New York (1.7 million), and Nevada (1.6 million). More than two thirds of the population growth occurred in 11 of the 50 states.

Going into the 1980–2005 period, I suppose I anticipated above-average growth in the Sun Belt, particularly in California; this had been the pattern in the 1960s and 1970s. But I didn't anticipate the growth in the southern Atlantic states, from Virginia south through Florida. Overall they gained 17.8 million people—25 percent of national growth. That's greater than the three Pacific Coast states, with a 15.6 million increase—22 percent of national growth. The Rocky Mountain states grew by 8.9 million, and Texas grew by 8.6 million—13 percent and 12 percent of national growth, respectively. The East and the Midwest each accounted for only 10 percent of national growth. Internal migration, which I touched on in the blog item on 2000–05 growth, played a role here: Americans have been leaving the East, Midwest, and, since 1990, California in great numbers. They are heading primarily to the southern Atlantic Coast and the Rocky Mountains.

This has political consequences. George W. Bush carried 31 states in 2004, with 286 electoral votes. The following table shows the electoral votes the 31 Bush '04 and the 19 John Kerry '04 states would have had under the apportionments following earlier censuses.

Census Bush '04 Kerry '04

2000 286 252

1990 279 259

1980 276 272

1970 268 270

1960 267 271

1950[1] 269 262

1940 273 258

1930 274 257

1910[2] 285 246

Note that the states Bush won in 2004 would not have given him a majority of electoral votes under the 1970 and 1960 apportionments. But they would have given him a majority under earlier apportionments—indeed, a greater proportion of the total electoral vote under the 1910 apportionment than he got under the 2000 apportionment. Why is this? Because for much of the 20th century the interior states that Bush carried—think Missouri, Kansas, etc.—gained population at below-national-average rates, and Bush '04 states like Florida and Texas didn't start gaining significant numbers of House seats and electoral votes until the 1970 apportionment. In the early post-World War II years there was significant population growth in manufacturing areas: Kerry '04 states like Michigan and New Jersey gained seats in the 1960 apportionment. Also, the Kerry '04 state of California up until 2000 gained multiple seats in each 20th-century apportionment. It gained only 1 in 2000.

Demography and political demographics are a little more complicated than "Sun Belt Gains/Snow Belt Loses." Example: In 1980–2005 Minnesota's population rose 26 percent, the highest in the Midwest, and Louisiana's, at the other end of the Mississippi River, only 8 percent, the lowest in the South.

1. Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union in 1959 and 1960 respectively. Add 3 electoral votes to the Bush '04 and Kerry '04 totals to account for this. The District of Columbia did not vote in presidential elections until 1964.

2. Congress, in defiance of the Constitution, did not reapportion the seats in the House of Representatives after the 1920 census. Members from rural districts noted that that count showed the big cities making big gains, and they did not want to give urbanites more representation and their own constituents less.