CHICAGO - Preliminary data from the Census Bureau shows the country's population growth rate over the last decade was the slowest since the Great Depression as birth rates hit record lows, death rates hit record highs and international immigration to the U.S. continued to decline.
While more than a dozen states grew in population by double-digit percentages over the last decade, three states - Illinois, Mississippi and West Virginia - had a net loss of residents between 2010 and 2020.
"It's unusual in the U.S. to have a state actually lose population," said Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire.
In the prior census, for the 2000 to 2010 decade, just one state - Michigan - recorded a net loss of residents, he said.
This time around, West Virginia saw the greatest percentage decline of 3.2%. That translates to about 60,000 fewer residents. Mississippi lost .2% of residents, or about 6,000 people. And Illinois lost .1% of residents, or about 18,000 residents. Formerly the fifth largest state, Illinois is now in sixth place behind Pennsylvania.
As a result, Illinois and West Virginia each lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with California, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mississippi managed to hold on to a seat, despite its declines.
States across the South and West, meanwhile, saw the greatest gains. Texas gained two House seats, and Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon each added one.
Utah, the state with the fastest growing population, grew by 18.4%. The state also had the highest gain in its natural rate - total births minus deaths, according to Johnson, who factored in previous census and health data.
"In a way, these are the continuation of trends that were going on for some time. They were interrupted by the Great Recession and its aftermath, as well as the slowdown in immigration to the U.S., but the general trends have been fairly consistent," Johnson said.
The data released this week gives Americans a general sense of population shifts at the state level, but more localized and detailed information on population characteristics, such as race, age, gender or origin, is expected to be released this summer.
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Census Bureau data: Texas will gain 2 congressional seats. Seven states to lose 1 seat.
What's going on nationally?
The U.S. population growth rate "slowed significantly" the past decade, Ron Jarmin, acting director of the Census Bureau, said in a press conference Monday. The U.S. population increased by 7.4% since the last census from about 309 million to 331 million - the slowest growth rate the nation has seen since 1940.
Regionally, the South saw more than 10% increase in population, followed by the West, Northeast and Midwest. Jarmin said the numbers reflect an ongoing trend of growth shifting to the South and West: Since 1940, there's been a combined net shift of 84 House seats to the South and West regions, he said.
"We've seen all through the decade that the population growth rates were not very fast," Johnson said. "Once the Great Recession hit in 2007-2010, the birth rates have dropped ... and they absolutely they have not recovered. The birth rate in the past year was the lowest we've had in the time that we have records for it."
What's going on in Illinois, Mississippi and West Virginia?
On top of the factors driving down growth rates nationwide, Illinois, Mississippi and West Virginia are seeing more people moving out of state than are moving in.
"Certainly in Illinois the biggest factor in the population decline was the loss of migrants, particularly domestic migrants from Illinois," Johnson said.
Christine Percheski, an associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University in Chicago, said the net population loss in Illinois "isn't surprising" and was foreshadowed by another Census Bureau survey, the American Community Survey.
Illinois has been struggling to attract new residents for several years, according to a 2019 Chicago Tribune analysis of census data and interviews with demographers. Mirroring national trends, the largest group that has been moving away is people in their 20s, who account for more than a quarter of departures. In Chicago, Black residents, in particular have been leaving the state in recent years, according to the Tribune.
Moving to a 'tax friendly' state?: Do your homework first
One in three people cited a new job as the reason for their move, according to the Tribune analysis. The study was unable to conclude whether taxes were contributing to residents' decisions to move. The 10.7% effective state and local tax rate in Illinois is the third highest in the Midwest and eighth highest among all states nationwide, according to a 24/7 Wall Street ranking.
Anecdotally, however, a number of social media pages critical of Illinois government suggest taxes and politics play a role in the trend. A Facebook group called "Escaping Illinois" with more than 50,000 followers and posts shares memes and news articles poking fun at "government incompetence and corruption."
In 2018, a man named Bob Raudys summed up his reasons for leaving in a song called "Goodbye Illinois": "They're taxin this and they're taxin that. Pretty soon there ain't nothin left. Pension fund is so well run - worst in the nation, well done. I really like the state, but I just can't pay and pay. Goodbye Illinois."
Percheski said the story is more complicated than tax policy: She said fewer international immigrants are coming to Illinois, in particular. According to the Migration Policy Institute, Illinois had the second-lowest percent change in its immigrant population over the past decade.
Percheski said the changes have not been offset by more births, and while the birth rate in Illinois is lower than many other U.S. states, it's "not rock-bottom."
In Mississippi, the state's population declined while its neighbors saw large growth, with Texas and Florida increasing by double-digit percentages.
"Economic opportunity is driving some of that out-migration - brain-drain, specifically for younger people," said Jamiko Deleveaux, a researcher at the State Data Center of Mississippi. "And we're sandwiched between several states that are seeing population growth. Tennessee is seeing new growth, which kind of pulls Mississippi residents."
West Virginia is also facing an out-migration problem. During the last decade, more people have been moving out than in since 2013, according to Christiadi, adjunct faculty and research associate at the West Virginia University John Chambers College of Business and Economics.
The outmigration, which has accelerated in recent years, has been "primarily driven by the state's job losses," Christiadi said. He said the state has lost more than 20,000 jobs from its employment peak in 2012.
Moreover, more people in West Virginia are dying than are being born. It's only one of two states, including the Maine, where deaths outpaced births over the last decade. That's been the case in West Virginia since 2008, Christiadi said.
"The primary reason is because West Virginia is among the oldest states in the nation," Christiadi said. "As the state's population aging continues, which partly is caused also by the continuing negative net-migration, births decline and deaths increase."
Were Latinos undercounted? More data to come
More detailed census data is expected to be released by the end of September at the latest. Demographers said that information will give them a better sense of who is moving where, and get them closer to figuring out why.
Many said they'll be looking closely at the reponses of Latino populations, in particular, amid fears that a lack of outreach programs in some areas and the Trump administration's failed push for a census citizenship question may have discouraged some residents from responding to it.
Arturo Vargas, head of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said in a statement he was "surprised" by the preliminary data and has questioned whether the nation's Latino population was undercounted.
"States with significant Latino populations projected to gain congressional seats either failed to do so (Arizona) or gained fewer than projected (Florida and Texas)," he said in the statement. "The initial results are surprising enough that once more details are released, we will be able to better determine to what extent the Latino population was fairly and accurately counted."
In the press conference this week, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the 2020 census count was "complete and accurate," with numerous quality checks and reviews, despite "unprecedent challenges - a global pandemic, destructive wildfires, the most active hurriane season on record and civil unrest across the country."
Responding to a question about fears of having undercounted the Latino populatiom, Karen Battle, chief of the bureau's population division, said the state totals for Texas and Florida were lower than expected but within 1% of estimates. "So they were still close, but the 2020 counts were slightly lower than our population estimates," Battle said.
Johnson said he was eager to see how populations changed in urban, suburban and rural areas. "There's a lot behind this topline number for each state," Johnson said. "In a sense, the overall number is sort of an oversimplification of all the demographic forces that are at work now."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Illinois, Mississippi, West Virginia lost residents, Census data shows