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WASHINGTON LETTER Dec-23-2010 (890 words) Backgrounder. With photo and graphic. xxxn

Effects of 2010 census figures can go beyond the economic and political

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The 2010 census figures announced Dec. 21 will have effects that go far beyond allocating federal dollars and shaping the representation of states in the Congress that convenes in January 2013.

They could also affect how the U.S. Catholic Church decides to distribute its own resources and personnel.

"The U.S. census is a useful tool for learning about God's people, who and where they are, and many other facts that shed light on their lives, possibilities and struggles," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez in 2009, encouraging wide participation in the census.

Now coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles, Archbishop Gomez was at that time head of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church.

"A church that seeks to evangelize is characterized by outreach," he added. "The U.S. census gives us important information to do that."

Required once every 10 years by the U.S. Constitution, the 2010 census showed a U.S. resident population on April 1, 2010, of 308,745,538 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That represented a 9.7 percent increase over the 2000 resident population of 281,421,906.

The fastest growing U.S. regions were the South, at 14.3 percent, and the West, at 13.8 percent. The Northeast and Midwest regions also grew, but by only 3.2 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Nevada was the state with the largest population growth, at 35.1 percent. But in the 10-year period before that, from 1990 to 2000, it grew by more than 66 percent.

At a news conference announcing the numbers, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said the census figures would provide "the backbone for our economic and political system for years to come."

Chief among the reasons for the count every 10 years is to reapportion the 435 House seats in Congress, as required by the Constitution.

Under a complicated formula in place since 1940, each state gets at least one House seat and the remaining seats are assigned according to the resident population of each state, plus the overseas military and federal civilian employees and their dependents allocated to each state. The populations of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are excluded from the apportionment population, because they do not have voting seats in Congress.

Although the specifics of redistricting will be decided by each state's legislature, the biggest winners in terms of seats gained were Texas, with four additional House seats, and Florida, with two. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington state each added a seat.

The biggest losers were Ohio and New York state, which each lost two House seats. Dropping one seat each were Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"The decennial count has been the basis for our representative form of government since 1790," said Robert Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, at the Dec. 21 news conference. "At that time, each member of the House represented about 34,000 residents. Since then, the House has more than quadrupled in size, with each member now representing about 21 times as many constituents" -- about 710,767 people each.

The initial census data released Dec. 21 contains lots of little factoids that might come up on "Jeopardy" or in the "Trivial Pursuit" games of the future:

-- The most populous U.S. states? California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois.

-- The least populous? Alaska, Delaware, Vermont, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.

-- States with the highest population density? New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland. (It's been the same five for the past 40 years, Groves said.)

-- The lowest population density states? Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, unchanged for the past 20 years.

-- The fastest growing states? Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho and Texas.

-- The slowest growing? Rhode Island, Louisiana, Ohio and New York. Only Michigan showed a decline in population between 2000 and 2010. It was down 0.6 percent.

In addition, Puerto Rico's resident population of 3,725,789 represented a 2.2. decrease over the number counted a decade earlier.

But there are many questions that the census figures cannot answer.

How many of those counted in the census are living in the United States illegally?

"We do not have a question about whether a person is a citizen or not," Groves said. "Every year since 1790 we have counted all the persons who live in the United States."

The Census Bureau director said other statistical models based on population data can indicate whether increases in population are because of migration from other countries or can be attributed to the U.S. birth rate, but they do not distinguish between those who migrate through legal channels and other new arrivals.

Groves estimated that about 60 percent of the population growth is the result of what he called "natural increases," while 40 percent is because of migration.

The census figures also cannot answer any questions about the religious makeup of the U.S.

That's because the U.S. Census Bureau has been forbidden by law since 1976 from including any mandatory questions about a person's "religious beliefs or membership in a religious body."

But Catholic leaders in some dioceses might consider the county-by-county data that will emerge from the 2010 census figures over the next few months as they decide whether to open or close new parishes.


Copyright (c) 2010 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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