On a frigid February morning, the Census Bureau delivered chilling news to the mayors of New York, Detroit and Chicago.
A big chunk of each city's black population had packed up and left. They took with them political clout, congressional seats, and the federal funding for roads, bridges, schools and other public services, on which big cities depend.
After reviewing the numbers and calculating the impact, New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, led the chorus on the decennial count, demanding a do-over.
The last recount was conducted following the 2000 census, census spokesperson Tom Edwards said.
“We identified potential count problems for 1,180 out of 39,000 jurisdictions across the country. Our corrections resulted in a net gain in population of about 2,700 people,” Edwards noted. “Basically this amounts to 1/1000th of 1 percent of the nation’s population of 280-plus million people counted.”
Even if all of the miscounts were in New York City, a 2,700-person gap would not fix the problems that Bloomberg or other industrial big-city mayors face as blacks (and whites) head south and west.
In politics, census numbers matter. Yet they are a measure of demographics that changed in the previous 10 years, not digits that change demographics.
“Which is exactly the point that gets missed,” according to Jeff Brauer, a Keystone College political science professor. “These numbers are a snapshot of the population changes that have already occurred, trends that have already been reflected … in the recent midterm elections which gave Republicans the current advantage.”
An important point that is missed in the census-impact discussion is what the census does to U.S. politics and what it does not do.
What it does is to provide data to reapportion power regarding the number of U.S. House seats that each state gets and that corresponds to each state’s electoral votes in presidential elections. With this, it is easy to measure winners and losers for the next 10 years – or even longer, after further demographic changes.
“As expected, the states of the ‘Old Economic Core’ or the Rust Belt were the big losers, with Ohio and New York losing two each and Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, and Illinois losing one each,” explained Brauer.
States in the South and the West were the big winners: Texas, remarkably, gained four seats; Florida, two; South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona, one each.
That shifts power to more Republican-red states.