South sees rapid growth, state doesn't

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mississippi trailed its fast-growing Southern peers this past decade, puffing its population by 4.3 percent compared to double, triple or quadruple those numbers elsewhere in the region.
The U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday released the first data sets from its massive 2010 Census, including national and state-by-state population counts.
Of the 17 states in the South, Mississippi outpaced only coal-mining West Virginia and hurricane-ravaged Louisiana in population gains.
The Magnolia State picked up 122,639 new residents after the turn of the century, nudging its total residential population to more than 2.96 million.
“The latest figures released by the Census Bureau track a national trend of growth in the Southern states; Mississippi’s population increase … shows our state is no exception to that rule,” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann in a press release.
“Mississippi is a great place to work, raise a family, and have an excellent quality of life. It appears the rest of the nation is beginning to recognize these traits as well.”
Other Southern states, though, grew by an average of about 11 percent: Texas swelled by more than 20 percent, Georgia by more than 18 percent and Florida by more than 17 percent.
Mississippi also trailed Alabama, which showed 7.5 percent growth, and Arkansas, which grew 9.1 percent.
The reason for Mississippi’s lower growth rate wasn’t explained.
“We’d love to be able to answer the ‘why’ question, but we don’t have that information yet. Stay tuned,” said Frank Hobbs, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau, in an interview with the Daily Journal.
But according to Darrin Webb, state economist at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, the state’s slow growth rate likely took roots in the boom of the previous decade.
The 1990s brought a rash of casinos and hotels to the state, luring new construction and tourism workers and boosting Mississippi’s population by more than 10 percent for the decade.
“Employment in Mississippi peaked in May 2000 and declined through June 2003. Then it grew very modestly,” Webb said. “With that little job growth over the decade, it’s not surprising our growth was less than other Southern states.”
Webb attributed Mississippi’s job slowdown to the halt in new casino construction and the loss of the state’s previously robust manufacturing industry to overseas outsourcing.
Although Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had a devastating impact on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, its effects on the state’s population were negligible, Webb said, and might actually have added residents to the state, particularly those who had fled Louisiana.
Overall, the United States gained more than 27.3 million residents for a total population of 308,745,538 in 2010. That’s an increase of 9.7 percent, the second lowest growth rate of the past century.
It’s common for more developed nations to experience slower growth over years, said Robert M. Groves, director of U.S. Census Bureau, during a morning press conference attended by media representatives in person and by phone.
Michigan, whose auto industry has taken a hit in recent years, was the only state to have lost residents. Its population declined by 0.6 percent. Nevada logged the nation’s highest growth rate, expanding by 35 percent.
The numbers do not include the more than 1 million members of the Armed Forces or federal civilian employees living overseas or their dependents – including nearly 11,000 Mississippians. Those people are, however, included in the nation’s congressional apportionment totals.
Apportionment is how the U.S. House of Representatives splits its 435 seats among the 50 states.
It’s based not only on each state’s individual population, but also on the nation’s population density overall. Each U.S. House district must be roughly equal in population.
In the most recent decade, it was nearly 647,000 residents. But the nation’s new growth means districts now will include more people – nearly 711,000 in each.
Mississippi, which lost a House seat after the previous census, will keep its four congressional districts this time.
But five other Southern states will see change: Louisiana will lose one of its seven seats; South Carolina will gain one seat for a total of seven; Georgia will pick up one for a total of 14 seats; Florida grabs two for a total of 27; and Texas will gain four seats for 36.
The U.S. Census Bureau has conducted the nation’s decennial survey every decade since 1790. Its findings help shape nearly every aspect of business and government, from the makeup of Congress and state legislatures to the annual allocation of some $400 billion in federal funds to local communities.
“Much is riding on what we announce today,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke at the press conference.
Locke also said that businesses and industry use the data to identify new markets and determine the location of major capital investments.
“Indeed,” he said, “the census and other statistics collected by the Census Bureau will serve as a backbone of our economy for years to come.”
The bureau mailed surveys to every household in America earlier this year. Seventy-four percent returned the 10-question forms by mail, halting a three-decade decline in mail-back responses and helping reduce the effort’s costs.
The federal government had allocated $7.4 billion for the decennial census, but its final costs came under by more than $1.8 billion, Locke said.
More than 3 million temporary census workers were hired nationwide, including about 2,000 hired through the Tupelo office.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.