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Census Estimates Say Connecticut Will Retain 5 Seats In U.S. House Of Representatives

RINKER BUCK

December 24, 2009

Despite continued population gains in such high-growth states as Texas, California and North Carolina the so-called Frostbelt to Sunbelt transformation of America Connecticut's population has remained relatively stable and the state is expected to retain its five congressional seats after a new census count next year.

This is but one of many projections about the state's future contained in U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday the final tallies of the decade before new head counts are made next spring during the scheduled 2010 Census.

Although the census projections contain some potentially ominous signs for Connecticut, especially about its low birth rate and rapidly aging population, the estimate that the state will not lose a seat in Congress will be welcomed at a time when other states in the industrialized Northeast and Midwest could lose up to nine seats.

In 2001, after the results of the 2000 Census were tabulated, Connecticut lost a congressional seat, its clout in the U.S. House of Representatives dropping from six to five. In the 1990s, Connecticut's population grew by 3.6 percent, but so many states in the South and West grew so much more robustly that, under the country's proportional representation system, the state was forced to eliminate a seat.

The shifting of the population to the warmer South and West abetted by such factors as post- World War II retirement patterns and the impact of immigration is a continuation of a trend that gathered momentum in the late 1960s. Between 1970 and 2000, according to Washington's Population Reference Bureau, the share of the population living in the South and the West grew from 48 percent to 58 percent. According to Peter Francese, the founder of American Demographics Magazine, the trend has continued this century, with 85 percent of the nation's population growth occurring in Sunbelt states.

Orlando Rodriguez, the manager of the Connecticut State Data Center at the University of Connecticut, cautions that the estimate that Connecticut will not lose a congressional seat, while reasonably certain, will not be confirmed until next year.

"If the federal government calculated apportionment according to the data we have today, Connecticut would keep its five existing congressional seats," Rodriguez said. "But this is an estimate for now and we still have to wait for the actual head count once the new census is conducted this spring."

But Rodriguez's crunching of the data for Connecticut and other states, if confirmed by the census next year, might have considerable political implications. Congressional votes on issues like health care reform and reducing carbon emissions are often starkly divided between the generally liberal Northeast and the conservative-leaning South and West, and shifting representation to those areas could affect both the tone and the outcome of national debate.

Rodriguez, for example, estimates that Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey will all lose a seat in Congress after the 2010 Census is apportioned. Ohio might lose two seats, he said. But Texas might add as many as four seats and South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Utah could all gain a seat.

The Census Bureau's estimates indicate that Connecticut's population increased by about 15,000 people a mere 0.4 percent in the past year, to about 3,518,000. But the effect of changing immigration patterns is clear. Rodriguez estimates that more than 11,000 immigrants, most of them probably from mainland China and India, moved to the state last year.

Connecticut remains the 29th most populous state, the same ranking it held in 2008 and in the 2000 Census. Connecticut is still among the slowest-growing states, ranking 41st in percentage change since 2008 and since 2000. In the past nine years, the state's population has grown by about 113,000 residents, according to the estimates.

But among New England states, Connecticut had relatively healthy population growth. Massachusetts had a 0.8 percent population increase in the past year, ranked 26th in the nation. New Hampshire's population was up 0.2 percent, and Vermont grew by 0.1 percent. But Rhode Island's population stayed almost exactly the same as in 2008, and Maine lost about 1,400 residents, a drop of 0.1 percent.

If current demographic trends continue, Connecticut's most vexing problems might be internal the combined effect of a low birth rate and an aging population. Next year, Connecticut will have an estimated population 65 years or older of 506,202, a population that is expected to grow to 817,719 by 2030. The growing population of elderly on fixed incomes, and the fact that they are not being replaced rapidly enough by new births of future workers, could severely restrict both the state's income growth and its ability to collect taxes.

"What Connecticut faces is this question: Who is more expensive to support, dependent children who need an education, or dependent elderly who need services and health care?" Rodriguez said. "I'm not an economist and I'm not sure this has been studied enough yet, but we'd better do it soon. If you think we have fiscal problems now, they could well become more severe later."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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