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Population estimates show Pennsylvania losing congressional district

Friday, August 2, 2019  
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by Megan Tomasic

Population estimates show Pennsylvania losing congressional district

The number of U.S. House of Representative seats reserved for Pennsylvania could continue to dwindle following a 100-year population trend in the state, according to recent predictions for districts across the country.

A map released by Esri, a California-based geographic information system company, shows Pennsylvania with 17 congressional districts, down from 18, after the 2020 census. Esri is working with officials from the once-a-decade survey to provide mapping tools for an accurate count.

Kyle Cassal, chief demographer for Esri who created the map, said data was based on census predictions and the method of equal proportions, which is currently used to calculate congressional seats. Following the method, Cassal calculated that Pennsylvania would rank 13th among the states, meaning the number of congressional seats for 12 other states would be determined before Pennsylvania’s.

While Pennsylvania has seen an increase of just over 290,460 people since 2010, census estimates show. And that number is not enough to hold onto 18 congressional seats, said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh who studies demographic trends.

“I think it’s a simple story that’s relative to us … the state is pretty solidly within a range to lose one congressional seat,” Briem said, despite the growth over the past decade.

Cassal added that while Pennsylvania is on the cusp of gaining or losing a seat, states that rank fourth or fifth on the method of equal proportions for congressional seats can be easily swayed by an inaccurate count. Local officials started pushing for an accurate count in January to ensure federal representation and to determine how state and federal money is distributed.

Cassal cited issues the Census Bureau is facing, including hiring enough workers when unemployment is at a low and backlash stemming from the possibility of the citizenship question.

“The impact is you have less clout in the Congress,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and professor of public affairs at Lancaster’s Franklin & Marshall College. “The more lawmakers you have, the larger the clout.”

But Pennsylvania isn’t the only state that could lose representation. Other states include: California, dropping to 52; Illinois, 17; Michigan, 13; New York, 26; Ohio, 15; Rhode Island, one; West Virginia, two; and Wisconsin, seven.

Madonna added it’s too early to know which part of the state will be impacted. Congressional districts will be drawn by the state legislature following the 2020 census.

Predictions released in April show a shift in population growth occurring on the eastern side of the state, mainly in Philadelphia County. The area saw an increase by about 65,930 people. On the western side, however, including areas around Pittsburgh and into Westmoreland County, populations are dwindling.

Westmoreland County saw the largest decline in the state, with a decrease of over 14,580 people since 2010, while Allegheny County saw the largest decrease of people between 2017 and 2018 in the state, with a loss of about 2,200 people.

“At this point, there’s no way to know for sure what’s likely to happen,” Madonna said. “We’d have to get through the 2020 legislative elections. … We don’t determine legislative districts in the same way. For congressional districts, (they’re drawn) by the legislature so you can’t remove politics from it.”

Madonna added redistricting is largely swayed by who has House majority — Republicans or Democrats.

“When the 2011 map was done by the Republican-controlled legislature in the 2012 election, the Republicans won 13 seats, the Democrats five,” Madonna said. “In 2014, 13 to five. 2016, 13 to five. So you can clearly see the impact on the gerrymandering done by the Republicans. The Democrats do it, too.”

The map proposed by Pennsylvania’s Republican legislative leaders proposed last February was eventually deemed unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court because of partisan gerrymandering.

Cassal predicted six states will see an increase of one representative, including Oregon, which could increase to six, Montana to two, Colorado to eight, Arizona to 10, South Carolina to 14 and Florida to 28. Texas could add three seats, bringing its total to 39 representatives.

The remaining 34 states will not see a change in the number of representatives, Cassal predicted.

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