New U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that Minnesota’s growth slowed slightly in 2019, deepening fears that the state may lose a congressional seat after the 2020 Census.
The data released Monday offered the last glimpse at state populations before the census this spring that will determine how the country’s 435 congressional seats are divvied up. Minnesota barely hung onto its eight seats after the last census in 2010, but its growth hasn’t kept pace with states like Florida and Texas that are poised to gain seats.
“I’m less confident that we will be able to keep [the seat], just because the estimate that we have is not showing as strong of growth that we saw in 2016, ’17, and ’18,” said state demographer Susan Brower. “But it’s still within reach. It still doesn’t look impossible to me.”
Analyses by the Wall Street Journal and the Brookings Institution on Monday projected Minnesota would likely lose a congressional seat based on the latest population estimates.
Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, a Virginia consulting firm that studies reapportionment, said the new estimates put Minnesota in a slightly worse position than a year ago.
Previously, the firm projected Minnesota could keep a seat under one potential growth scenario.
But that is no longer true.
“A year ago we were saying that Minnesota was close,” Brace said. “Now all … of the projections show that you’d lose a seat.”
Brace’s new projections find that Minnesota would fall between roughly 21,000 and 25,000 people short of keeping the seat.
The new population estimates illustrate the importance of an accurate census count this spring and summer, when every Minnesotan will be asked to fill out a census form online.
Brower said the number of people Minnesota needs to keep its seat, based on various projections, is not insurmountable.
“That’s very much within both of the [margins of] error that’s built into the [population] estimates and … what we could make up with a really good count,” Brower said.
Minnesota’s population grew by about 0.6% last year, or about 33,000 people. That was down slightly from 0.7% the prior year.
Annual growth rates have generally hovered in that range since 2011, though they nearly reached 0.8% in 2017. Texas, by comparison, grew by about 1.3% last year.
Growth is driven by births, deaths and migration. Brower said the number of births has remained low since the recession and there has been slower international immigration for several years.
The biggest swing in 2019 was a steep dive in the number of people arriving in Minnesota from other states, dropping from 6,500 to nearly zero. Brower said those domestic migration figures are prone to large annual swings, however.
Minnesota, which has about 5.6 million people, did outperform many of its neighbors. The state’s annual growth has been about four times the Midwest region overall in recent years. Illinois’ population has actually been declining for several years.
State officials will learn in December 2020 if Minnesota will lose a congressional seat based on the 2020 census results. State lawmakers will then use more detailed data in 2021 to redraw legislative districts. The courts may have the final say, however, as has become the norm in recent decades.
And there’s more than just congressional representation at stake. The state could also lose one of its 10 votes in the Electoral College, diminishing its power in presidential elections.
But a lot depends on what happens in the coming months. Census letters go out in mid-March, and efforts to reach people who have not responded will continue until the end of July.
“We certainly don’t want to lose a congressional seat with an undercount,” Brower said. “So this is one of the things that motivates people, particularly in greater Minnesota, to make sure that their count is as complete as it can be.”