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Opinion: Understanding the 2020 census population changes

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The census has completed its survey, and the results are in.

The winners are Texas, Florida, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, and North Carolina – all of whom picked up one congressional seat (except for Texas, which picked up two seats). 

The losers are California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia – all losing a congressional seat. 

The fewer congressional seats, the less influence a state has in the capital. But, even if a state lost a congressional seat, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the state became less populated, just that other states grew more rapidly. 

California and New York, for example, both grew between 2010 and 2020, at 6% and 4%, respectfully. But a state like Texas, which gained two congressional seats, grew at a rate of 16%

Most states in the nation grew, with the country itself growing by 7%. Indeed, the only states that both lost a congressional seat and shrank in size were West Virginia and Illinois.

So why do states and their economies shrink if the nation as a whole is growing at a healthy rate?

Well, tax and general governance policies influence who stays in a city or town and who moves to a different area. Today, many states seem to be losing their residents to areas with more friendly tax and business environments.

However, a trend between high taxation and an exodus of people is not entirely correlated. States like Oregon or Hawaii, smaller states with relatively high tax rates, experienced healthy growth rates – with Oregon even gaining a congressional seat. But the situation becomes more concerning with larger states. 

California is an interesting example of residents wishing to leave. It has an excellent climate, is connected to the Pacific Ocean, and has an existing port infrastructure ideal for trade. It’s an ideal place for growth, but people voice their support for an area by not only voting with their ballot but also with their feet, as a good Chicago economist would say. 

States with more friendly environments will reap the benefits of their policy. A more friendly environment to live in can include many things, including a good government with well-funded schools or hospitals. Still, the issue of taxation, particularly among the wealthy – who can send their children to private schools or an out-of-state doctor – seems to be of paramount importance.

A serious issue, however, does arise from this scenario. One can expect Americans relocating to another state to be disproportionately wealthy than the average American – with moving across the nation being quite costly. 

For states with low taxes, the benefit is clear. As more people – and their wealth – move to states like Florida and Texas, the larger the tax base grows and the fewer tax increases are necessary.

Nonetheless, I sometimes worry as a society we can fall into the trap of viewing things exclusively in terms of economics or dollars and cents. Of course, it’s a rational thing to consider tax rates when deciding where to live, but it ought not be the definitive or exclusive reason why one moves to an area. It’s about the energy, the community, the society. 

And society ought not to be just a group of strangers forced to live near one another, but a group of people with shared values and a shared vision. We are very much closer to the former. 

If a society lacks an appreciation for tradition or camaraderie with one’s neighbor, what ties a person to a piece of land, a city, a home? The answer is nothing. Maybe this is just an effect of our modern view of the world, or maybe it’s an effect of 300 million of us living together in one country. 

Regardless, one of the beauties of the census is that it is a passive observer. The people make their choices and change the path of their lives, and all these data are stored as history for generations to come. 

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Ryan James Solis

Ryan James Solis of El Paso is a junior at Harvard College on a gap year from studying history and economics. He is a Gates, Jack Kent Cooke, and Coca-Cola scholar.

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