In Depth

Population growth in Maine trails region and nation

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On Monday, the US Census Bureau released its first estimate of state and national population numbers for the 2020 Census. Tasked with administering a national count by the US Constitution, the federal government uses this tally for the apportionment of the nation’s 435-member House of Representatives every 10 years. These numbers are also used to determine each state’s total electoral votes for the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections.

The Census Bureau reports that as of April 1, 2020, “the resident population of the United States, including the 50 states and the District of Columbia was 331,449,281.” This is a 7.4% overall increase in population since the previous Census.

A few states, like Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Texas, gained seats in Congress, while others, like California, Illinois, Michigan and New York, lost one seat each.

In 2022, the average Congressional District will hold 790,000 Americans, but for the least populous states, numbers vary. Maine’s Congressional Districts will each cover around 680,000 people, while Delaware’s single, at-large district will encompass 991,000.

It’s an imperfect process, as dividing 331.5 million into 435 naturally would be. The fate of some so-called “bubble districts,” like New York’s 27th and Minnesota’s 8th, were decided by a difference of less than 100 residents.

Today, the Bureau estimates the population of Maine to be 1,362,359, growing 2.6% since 2010. For comparison, in that same time period, the population of all northeastern states (PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, VT, NH, ME) grew a little more than 4%. 

The only northeastern states that grew slower than Maine were Connecticut (0.9%) and Pennsylvania (2.4%), the latter of which lost a Congressional District this time around.

Over the 1970s, Maine’s population grew more than 13%, and nearly 10% over the 1980s, far exceeding the regional average. Growth has slowed considerably since then.

The last time Census reapportionment affected Maine was in 1960, when the state lost the Third Congressional District, despite the population growing by more than 180,000, or more than 50% over the preceding decade. Maine lost its Fourth District in the 1930 Census under similar circumstances after growing nearly 40% during the 1920s.

The Census will release a final report in September for states to begin their map drafting processes. It remains to be seen how Maine’s updated population numbers will change the boundaries of the state’s two Congressional districts, 35 state senate districts, and 151 state house districts.

That will be partly the task of a 12-person committee to find how the state’s population distribution has changed over the last decade. The redistricting committee, the makeup of which will be determined by state legislative leaders and the state’s two main political parties, may make nonbinding recommendations to the legislature. 

The Maine Constitution says lawmakers must approve new maps by a two-thirds vote and earn the governor’s signature, or override a veto. If this process fails, the job falls to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. 

Maine’s Constitution also requires that each district drawn “shall be formed of contiguous and compact territory and shall cross political subdivision lines the least number of times necessary” to define districts with the most equivalent populations as possible. Put another way, districts must be equal in population, but not structured in a way where it takes three hours to drive to the other end, where possible.

Population distribution across the US is made up of many converging factors, so it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about why some states lost and others gained over the past decade. Since this Census count is from April 2020, this largely does not reflect the potential shifts in residency prompted by the pandemic and related shutdowns.

Recent reports on migration trends from within the United States could be a reaction to differences in state-by-state tax policy. A commonly-cited example is the massive numbers of Americans moving from California to Texas in the last few years, but an overhead view of the data shows that many of the highest inbound-migration states, like Idaho, North Carolina and South Dakota, present some of the most friendly tax environments. 

Conversely, states which saw the greatest out-migration, like Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, made up the five highest-tax states in 2020.

Governors and legislators around the country might be looking for ways to attract more workers, entrepreneurs, and families to their state. Will the successful states be the ones that ultimately take less from their residents, or will other issues drive population growth over the next decade?

About Nick Murray

Nick Murray, of Cornish, currently serves as Policy Analyst with Maine Policy Institute, writing, researching, and bringing Mainers together over the issues facing the state. Previously, he served as Outreach Coordinator, planning events to spread the word about Maine Policy's work to new audiences around Maine.

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