Will 2020 Census increase urban America’s political clout? Yes, but with regional variation. Metro Seattle among winners.

Over the past decade, Americans have been gravitating to metro areas, where employment has become concentrated, accelerating the nation’s urban-rural disparities. While there have been hints of a slowing (“peak metro”), the Puget Sound metropolitan area continues its population gains.

The 2020 Census is expected to confirm the population trends, with a predictable consequence.

A decades-long trend of Americans moving to densely-packed urban cores is likely to sap rural parts of the country of their political power in coming years as a new reapportionment and redistricting process kicks off just three months from now.

Although the metro shift has been documented for a while, the numbers are still impressive.

Long-term population estimates show the nation has grown by about 19 million residents since the last U.S. Census was conducted in 2010, to about 328 million people. Previously released data shows that growth has been concentrated almost entirely in the largest cities and counties in the country.
The 100 largest counties in America added a net 9.8 million people between 2010 and 2018, Census figures showed. Counties with populations of more than a quarter million account for three-quarters of the country’s net population growth…
By contrast, two-thirds of the 2,153 counties in America with fewer than 50,000 residents have lost population over that same period. Collectively, those counties have lost about 238,000 residents.
There’s been the documented decline of the Northeast and Rust Belt. 

The figures suggest that 10 states are set to lose seats in Congress next year, almost all from the Northeast or the Rust Belt. Those states — Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia — have all seen populations decline in more than half of their counties.

Early political speculation:

No state has grown faster than Texas, where 10 counties added more than 130,000 residents in the last 10 years. Harris County alone, home of Houston, has added 590,000 residents — almost enough for an entire congressional district on its own. Texas’s congressional delegation is expected to grow by three seats, the fifth consecutive reapportionment cycle in which the state has gained multiple seats.
Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon are also expected to add one seat each. In those four states, far more counties have added population than lost population, though the growth has mostly been concentrated in the largest metro areas.
Washington, so far, is not among the states predicted to gain Congressional representation, but the shift here will likely affect legislative apportionment. 
Housing affordability may reinforce the trend in the coming decade. Route Fifty reports

Some of the strongest gains in U.S. home values during the coming year are anticipated in parts of Texas and the south, while a number of expensive California real estate markets are expected to be more sluggish, according to a new survey of economists and other experts.

The real estate data company Zillow released the results from the survey this week. It asked respondents to gauge how home value growth in 25 large metro areas during 2020 would compare to the average growth rate for values nationally.

The unsurprising expectation,

Zillow noted that at least 11 of the housing markets expected to perform best are in Texas, the Southeast or Southwest regions of the U.S.

“At the top of the list are metros still providing relative affordability and thriving, amenity-rich communities that appeal to younger adults willing to make a move,” Skylar Olsen, Zillow’s director of economic research, said in a statement.

For Seattle, the outlook is mixed:

Other California markets where a large proportion of respondents expect growth to trail the national average include Los Angeles (55%), Sacramento (52%) and Riverside (47%). Cincinnati, Ohio (46%) and Seattle (40%), were also listed on this end of the ranking. 

For Seattle, however, the share of respondents who said that the housing market would outperform the national average was also 40%.

Housing policies influence affordability, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board recently wrote, citing Portland, Oregon, as the model to avoid. Restrictive zoning, growth boundaries, and other regulatory burdens there have led to a reduction in residential construction. 

Portland is now desperate for affordable housing and says it’s at least 23,000 units short. But its policies discourage investment in housing for low- and middle-income families. Its land-use zoning is more restrictive than more than three-fourths of other metropolitan areas examined in a new working paper by Harvard and University of Pennsylvania researchers.


The rest of Oregon is following Portland’s bad example with more price controls. Last year it became the first state to impose universal rent control. Oregon landlords can no longer raise rent by more than 7% a year plus the rate of inflation on nearly all older buildings. The law exempts buildings for the first 15 years of occupancy, but that’s little reassurance to landlords making decades-long investments. Oregon lawmakers also recently imposed new limits on evictions and raised the costs on some landlords who terminate tenancies. Property owners are left with even less reason to give the riskiest renters a place to live.

This is what happens when politicians ignore the laws of economics, and the shame is that their constituents pay the price.

A cautionary tale. So far, metro Seattle has been among the nation’s winners, fueling Washington’s remarkably resilient economy. Choice made in the coming months and years will determine for how long the successful run can be extended.