LITTLE ROCK – The number of people who live in Arkansas increased by about 95,600 over the past 10 years, a growth rate of 3.3 percent that brought the state’s population to more than three million people.
The population of the entire United States grew by 7.4 percent, to more than 332 million people.
After months of delay, the U.S. Census Bureau finally released a preliminary version of its new census report last week. The Bureau conducts a census every 10 years.
The new population count is important because it will be the basis for distributing almost $10 billion in federal funding, through 55 U.S. government programs. For example, five years ago almost $500 million in Medicaid funding went to Arkansas based on the previous census from 2010.
Federal matching funds are distributed to the 50 states through a formula that takes into account population and per capita income, as derived from census data.
Census data is a factor in federal funding for highway construction, public housing, foster care, assistance with utility bills, school lunch programs, senior citizens centers, grants for vocational rehabilitation and welfare.
That’s why local elected officials worked so hard last year to make sure everyone responded to census surveys. Undercounts are worse in isolated, rural areas and in low-income neighborhoods.
The financial impact of population loss is one the reason that some local elected officials are trying to generate support for a recount in areas where population declines have been the most dramatic.
However, the odds are strongly against a recount by the Census Bureau.
In Arkansas, cities gained population and rural areas lost population. Of the state’s 75 counties, 53 lost population.
The largest gains were in Benton County, whose population grew by 28.5 percent, and Washington County, which grew by 21.1 percent. Both counties are in northwest Arkansas, where the local economy has consistently thrived over the past few decades.
In central Arkansas, Pulaski County grew by 4.3 percent, Saline County by 15.2 percent, Faulkner County by 11.3 percent and Lonoke County by 7.2 percent.
In northeast Arkansas, Craighead County grew by 14.4 and Greene County by 7.7 percent.
Census data affects more than a region’s government funding, but also its political influence. The legislature will use the new data to draw new maps of the state’s four Congressional Districts. The total population of Arkansas remained relatively stable over the past 10 years, therefore we continue to be represented in Washington by four members of Congress.
Texas grew in population so much that it will gain two Congressional seats. Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon and Montana will add one Congressional seat.
New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia will each lose one Congressional seat, which means those states will lose some political influence in Washington.
The state Board of Apportionment, consisting of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, will use the new census data to draw new maps of legislative districts. There are 35 Senate districts. There are 100 districts in the state House of Representatives.
When the redistricting process is complete, probably by the end of the year, all House and Senate districts will have roughly the same number of voters.