Why Arizona May Not Get a 10th Congressional Seat

By Tony Sissons, Research Advisory Services, Inc., Phoenix, for The Arizona Guardian

For the past five years, political consultants have been projecting that Arizona will pick up two additional congressional districts after the 2010 Census. Until a year ago, I agreed. Now, because of recent and continuing economic conditions, and the likelihood of a larger‐than‐ever Hispanic undercount, I think it’s a toss‐up whether Arizona’s 2010 population will be large enough to qualify for that 10th seat.

Every December, the U. S. Bureau of the Census releases population estimates for the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Immediately, a dozen or more universities and political consulting firms run the new figures through the “method of equal proportions“ reapportionment formula adopted and used by Congress since 1941, to determine each states’ allocation of the fixed number of seats (435 in all) in the U. S. House of Representatives. States with stable or declining populations stand to lose seats; growing states gain seats. For now, it’s an academic exercise – no seats are awarded until after the decennial census – but the jockeying for position in the last two or three years of the decade makes for interesting speculation.

Because Arizona has been growing faster than most other states, its eligibility for each additional seat has improved each year. The state became eligible for its 9th seat in 2004. The annual trend line in the priority ranking for Arizona’s 10th seat looked very good until 2005, when the state’s annual growth rate, in relation to all other states, started to decelerate slightly.

In 2004, the reapportionment formula placed Arizona’s 10th seat in 484th place. In the remaining six years of the decade, the state would need to advance 49 places to close the gap and pick up the 435th seat. Since 2004, the annual advancement has been 13, 10, 10, and 7 places, leaving Arizona’s 10th seat in 444th place (just nine to go) in 2008.

The question is: in the 21 months between the latest Census estimate (for July 1, 2008) and Census Day, April 1, 2010, will Arizona’s growth, in relation to growth (and a few losses) in other states, be enough to close the remaining nine priority‐ranking places to capture the 435th seat?

A year ago, I said “Yes, but not by a wide margin”. Today, I think the economic slowdown and the antipathy for Hispanics revved‐up by high‐profile elected officials are the two main factors likely to deny the 10th seat.

We have only anecdotal evidence, as yet, that population growth has slowed. With higher unemployment, less money in family budgets, and dim prospects for a quick turnaround, households are focused on survival. Just Google the words “hunkering down economy” for a large taste of how households and businesses are dealing with uncertainty.

As attractive as the many reasons for moving to Arizona continue to be, people seem to be deferring those decisions. The economic development director of a mid‐sized Arizona city told me last week that, up until about June, his community was growing at its usual rate. Since then, he said, “population growth has flat‐lined”.

The housing market may be the biggest barrier. According to newly‐released Census data, analyzed on the Florida‐Homebuyer.com website:

“…the U. S. population is largely staying put due to the housing downturn and economic recession. This has slowed the migration to popular sunny states such as Nevada, Arizona and Florida. Population figures from mid‐2008 showed growth slowdowns in typically booming metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa, and experts point to mortgage foreclosures and frozen lines of credit as factors.”

Since much of Arizona’s growth has come from people moving here from other states, a drop‐off in that migration deals a double blow to Arizona’s reapportionment success. A lower population count directly diminishes Arizona’s eligibility for its 10th Congressional district. But, the folks who defer a move to Arizona continue to prop up their states’ eligibility in that simultaneous competition for additional districts.

I served on Census “complete count” committees in 1980, 1990 and 1995. Dealing with anticipated undercounts of Hispanic residents and homeless people has been a persistent feature of those efforts. The Constitution mandates that every ten years, each person living in the country, regardless of immigration status, must be counted. Persons without a legal right to be Arizona residents will probably always avoid answering a Census questionnaire for fear that their forms will be turned over to immigration officials, despite assurances to the contrary from Census and immigration officials. According to Latino leaders, some lawfully‐present Hispanics choose not to cooperate with the Census in solidarity with undocumented Hispanics.

Combining the effects of a slowdown in growth and (I anticipate) a larger Hispanic undercount…well, if I had to place a bet today, it would that Arizona will have to be satisfied with only one additional Congressional District, its 9th, until after 2021.

Steps that Arizona could take to increase the likelihood of having a large enough population to be awarded a 10th seat are:

  • Play a larger role in statewide “correct count” (answer the Census) efforts than in past census years, rather than leaving it up to cities and councils of government.
  • Investigate and catalog the reasons that out‐of‐state households are deferring their moves to Arizona, and then develop strategies to chip away at those barriers.
  • Take advantage of the expectation that Arizona’s housing market (availability of product and financing) will recover faster than the rest of the country. Each positive housing statistic should be an opportunity to trumpet Arizona’s attractiveness in other states.
  • Work with Latino social, cultural and advocacy organizations, statewide, to find ways to convince lawfully‐present Hispanic residents that boycotting the Census in sympathy with undocumented Hispanics is misplaced solidarity that does nothing to improve the plight of undocumented workers and their families, and nothing to spur Congress to enact rational immigration policy.

These efforts should start now. Census Day is only ten months away.

Tony Sissons is president of Research Advisory Services, an Arizona geo‐demographics research firm.

(Originally published in The Arizona Guardian, May 18, 2009)

Specializing in the analysis of data about geographic areas – Census blocks and tracts, Zip Codes®, voting precincts, land parcels, and traffic analysis zones