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Facing possible loss of House seat, California awaits census

Los Angeles, California's largest city and part of its most populous county, at dusk. (Photo: ESB Professional, via Shutterstock)

As California’s population growth flattens out, the state could lose a congressional seat for the first time in its history.

The state’s most recent demographic report shows that California added only 186,807 residents last year, showing a growth rate of .47 percent, the slowest ever.

With some experts predicting an undercount in the 2020 census, it appears more likely that the state could drop from 53 Congress representatives to 52.

“We have more registered voters than there are people living in 46 of the 49 states.” — Garry South

That would also mean the loss of one vote in the electoral college, which determines who is president, and less political clout for some in the state.

But at least one political consultant isn’t too concerned.

Garry South, a Democratic strategist, said California already has plenty of people and doesn’t need to continue the skyrocketing growth of the past.

“We have more registered voters than there are people living in 46 of the 49 states,” he said. “We have a critical housing shortage, gridlock on freeways, serious water shortages and overcrowded schools. Most Californians would gladly trade a congressional seat if the alternative is continued population growth that affects our quality of life.”

According to the state Finance Department, which produced the demographic report, the slower growth rate is driven by a decline in births, down 18,000 over the previous year, and an increase in deaths as Baby Boomers continue to age.

There’s reason to believe the 2020 census count will miss people is because it’s the first one that’s going to be conducted largely online.

The census figures are what determine the congressional representatives and many are not optimistic that it will produce an accurate count.

An October report by the Public Policy Institute of California said the 2020 census could potentially miss 1.6 million residents in “hard to count” populations such as immigrants, Latinos, African Americans and renters.

The region of the state that has the biggest percentage of the hard-to-count populations would mostly likely loss congressional representation, said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc, a company that markets data to the major political parties. “It weakens the political strength of minority groups who are being undercounted,” he said.

It is hard to guess where that might be because if California loses a seat, the current map will be erased and a new map would be drawn with new districts, Mitchell said.

There’s reason to believe the 2020 census count will miss people is because it’s the first one that’s going to be conducted largely online and it hasn’t been adequately tested. It’s also because of the government’s intention — currently fought in the courts — to ask a citizenship question.

Immigrants may not want to answer that. Some also may not adequately fill out the form and list all extended family and children living in the house. “The most undercounted population is noncitizen Latino kids,” Mitchell said.

The states that appear most likely to gain a seat include Oregon, Arizona, Colorado and Texas.

Though the state has set aside $100 million toward making sure that the census count is accurate, it is a tough job to convince some people how important it is to accurately fill out their census forms, Mitchell said.

A December report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office said the state has experienced greater undercounts than the rest of the country in all three of the past three censuses because it has a higher share of people who are harder to count.

However, the LAO still concluded that “the risk of California losing a congressional seat is low.” For the state to lose a seat, there would have to be as serious as undercount as in 1990 and immigrants would have to be undercounted by 10 percent. The office believes both won’t happen.

The number of Congress representatives each state has is determined by formula and is based on a state’s growth relative to others. The states that appear most likely to gain a seat include Oregon, Arizona, Colorado and Texas, the LAO said.

Jessica Patterson, the new chair of the California Republican Party, pointed out that a contributing factor to the state’s declining population growth is people moving out of California because the state is unaffordable. The LAO reported last year that 6 million moved out of California while only 5 million moved in. Patterson a recent poll that showed that 53 percent of Californians are considering moving out of state.

She blamed Democratic imposed policies that squeeze the middle class. “There’s a constant war on the policies for that demographic,” she said.

South said the potential loss of a Congressional representative is not that big of a tragedy in the larger scheme of things. The congressional districts are smaller than state senator districts and most people running for Congress here spend far less on their election races than those in contested state senate races.

“Members of Congress are just not well known in California,” he added.


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