Latinos Make their Mark: Demographics, Destiny and Reapportionment

Four weeks ago the US Census Bureau gave the nation a first glimpse at the 2010 data. Over 308 million people live in the United States now; a 10% increase since 2000. While an additional 27.3 million new residents is indeed news, the big story is reapportionment. Latinos are driving the very growth and regional population shifts that determined the decennial distribution of Congressional seats.

As the Boston Globe map above nicely illustrates, only eight states will gain Congressional representation: Texas picks up four seats, Florida two, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Georgia and South Carolina each add one.  Larger Latino presence in these states was essential to gaining additional representation.   The 2010 ethnic and racial composition data are not yet public, but comparing 2000 and 2009 Census data it is evident that congressional delegation growth is attributable to Latino-specific population growth in these states.  As the figure below illustrates, the Latino share of state populations increased in every case. This is not a regional phenomenon: in 35 states across the country, their population more than doubled.

State Latino Population Growth 2000-09 (Haz click aquí for enhanced graphic)

It is true that non-Latinos also netted gains, but Latinos out-paced others by rather strong margins.  Some states, including Louisiana, Rhode Island and Michigan actually had a net loss of non-Latinos and grew only because Latino increases offset the non-Latino population dip.  With all of these details in mind, it is fair to say that all new districts are Latino districts.

Let’s take a look at Texas, the big winner in reapportionment.  The Texas delegation on Capitol Hill will grow to thirty-six as a function of the 2010 reapportionment.   If the Latino population had gone unchanged over the past decade (remaining at the year 2000 level) the state would only have grown by 7%.  In that event, Texas would not pick up a single seat. All states gaining MCs this round have increases in state population of at least 14%.  To put a fine point on it — Missouri’s population grew by exactly 7% and lost a seat (see first map above).  The map below shows the extent to which Latinos influenced population change within each state.  The shading scheme accounts for the share of growth attributable to Latinos.  For example, over the last ten years, Texas population grew by an astonishing 20.6%, adding 4.3 million more people to the state.  Between 2000 and 2009, Texas added nearly 2.5 million Latinos, accounting for 63% of the overall population increase.


Latino Share of State Population Increase 2000 Census -2009 ACS


Census and apportionment formulas include all US residents, irrespective of age or citizenship status.  Legislative districts are drawn to represent the totality of the resident population.  The vast majority of state and local districts also employ Census resident population data to allocate districts and re-draw lines.  Elected officials, no matter their office, are charged with representing all of their constituents, not just voters or contributors.  If democratic (small “d”) representation is working as it should, then Latinos should see their preferences on a broad range of issues increasingly reflected in legislation and public policy.  Alas, all is not so straightforward in Latino American politics.

The difficulty for Latinos in the reapportionment and representation process is this: states will gain legislative representation due to surges in Latino population, yet millions contributing to the net population growth are not able to vote due to age or citizenship status.  One-third of all Latino American citizens are too young to vote, and another 12.8 million Latinos are not eligible due to citizenship status.   Furthermore, recent years have seen politics fueled with anti-Latino rhetoric and policy agendas that are diametrically opposed to Latino preferences.  Thus, it is uncertain how much substantive or descriptive representation Latinos stand to gain from upcoming redistricting despite their obvious national presence.  It would be a horrible irony to see states adding congressional seats because of Latino growth, only to design districts and/or elect representatives with legislative agendas antagonistic to Latino interests in the state.  Once states have re-drawn their new districts, it will be worth revisiting how Latinos factored into deliberations and the prospects for increased representation.


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