If Ohio’s anemic population growth continues through the decade, the state will likely see its share of federal funding decrease and lose yet another congressional seat, a Dayton Daily News analysis of new Census data found.
Ohio’s population growth rate of 0.3 percent through the first three years of this decade was the sixth-lowest among the 50 states, the data show. Ohio is still the seventh-largest state in the nation, according to the 2013 state population estimates, but grew by only 34,304 since 2010 to reach an estimated 11.6 million in July of this year.
Meanwhile, the top-growing states, Texas and Florida, each added more than 1 million residents during the last three years. Texas alone added an estimated 1.3 million people — 38 times more than Ohio — since 2010.
These trends will likely translate to diminished political clout for Ohio, which just this week lost out on getting named one of six test sites for unmanned aerial systems research.
Because its growth has not kept up with fast-growing Sun Belt states, Ohio has already lost eight congressional seats since its high-water mark in 1960 when it had 24 members of Congress.
Every decade following the decennial census, the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are reapportioned among the states to reflect population changes. Ohio has lost at least one representative every decade since 1960. In 2010, with flat population growth during the previous decade, Ohio lost two seats, shrinking to 16.
If the state population trends shown in the first three years of this decade continue in roughly the same trajectory through 2020, Ohio will lose another congressional seat.
The newspaper analysis used the population estimates to calculate linear projections to 2020 populations for all the states. For example, Ohio’s population is projected to grow by only about 77,000 people during the decade, or 0.7 percent, to reach 11.6 million people.
By contrast, Texas is projected to gain 4 million people, an increase of 16 percent, to reach 29.2 million.
The projections are likely to be conservative, said Lisa Neidert, a senior research associate at the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center.
Immigration to states like Texas, California and Arizona fell drastically following the economic crash of 2007 because there weren’t jobs here for undocumented workers, Neidert said. But as the economy picks up, she expects to see immigration, documented or otherwise, increase for those states.
“So this is probably a tiny bit conservative estimate doing a linear projection,” Niedert said, “but it’s going to be pretty accurate for Ohio, because Ohio doesn’t get a ton of these populations anyway.”
The Population Studies Center has provided an apportionment calculator that allows researchers to plug in state population numbers and see how many seats each state would get. The calculator, Neidert said, uses computer code to run through the complex process of reapportioning seats according to current federal law.
With the newspaper’s projections, Ohio would be among seven states to lose one seat in Congress. Texas, meanwhile, would gain three seats if the projections prove accurate, while four other states would gain one seat.
“What matters is you’re growing slower than average,” Neidert said of Ohio. “You can still lose a seat, and it’s not because you didn’t grow, it’s just because you’re growing slower than other states.”
Ohio will also be falling behind in its share of federal funding.
The Census Bureau’s population estimates and other statistics are used to distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds every year, said Virginia Hyer, a spokesperson for the bureau.
Although the many federal programs based on population have different rules, Ohio’s relative lack of growth will slowly erode its share of the federal pie. This decade alone, Ohio’s share of the national population will fall from 3.73 percent to 3.5 percent if the trends continue.
In addition, Georgia, which in 2012 passed Michigan to become the eighth-largest state, is gaining on Ohio. In 2012, according to the Census estimates, Georgia passed Michigan by about 33,000 people to reach the eighth rank.
Georgia trailed Ohio by more than 1.8 million at the beginning of the decade. By 2020, the newspaper’s analysis found, Georgia’s population will be less than 1 million smaller than Ohio.
Political scientist Paul Beck said he’s not surprised Ohio is likely to lose another seat in Congress. “There was a lot of talk about that (among state politicians) even back in 2010, 2011, that this wouldn’t be our last attempt to tighten our belts and work with fewer districts,” said Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at The Ohio State University. “So when the Ohio legislature sits down to look at congressional districts in 2021, they’re going to face a pretty stark reality, and that is one or more of the incumbents is going to have to be sacrificed.”
Beck said the continued downsizing could help spur reform of the state redistricting process. A reform of the redistricting process is currently being considered by the Ohio Constitution Modernization Commission.
After every reapportionment of seats, according to the Ohio Constitution, the state Legislature draws new boundaries for the congressional districts. Since 1990, Republicans have been in control of the Legislature, and therefore, the maps that are often used to protect incumbents.
Barring some kind of “electoral earthquake,” Beck said political control in Columbus won’t change this decade. But Democrats are already down to just four congressional seats, so it is likely that a Republican legislature “will have to decide which Republicans they’re going to sacrifice,” according to Beck.
That could motivate Republican lawmakers to adopt a new process, Beck said. Any recommendation from the commission would have to be approved by the state Legislature and Ohio voters.
“It changes the calculations when people begin to realize that they’re going to have to go through a very bloody apportionment situation again in, really, six or seven years,” he said.