Minnesota is in a heated race with about a half dozen other states for one of the last congressional seats that will be apportioned after the 2010 U.S. Census.
For the past two years, projections indicated that Minnesota could lose one of its eight congressional seats and billions of dollars in federal aid. But Minnesota's state demographer and others say the recession may help the state keep the seat.
The collapse of the nation's housing market, a higher unemployment rate and the state's deepest recession since World War II have put significant strains on Minnesota. But there may be one bright spot to the economic downturn.
"People have stopped moving; largely because of the housing crunch and the recession," said William Frey with the Brookings Institution.
Frey released a report that said the unemployment rate and the housing downturn have slowed the migration of people from states like Minnesota and slowed the population growth in Sunbelt states. Frey said it's the slowest migration pattern since data started being collected in the 1950s.
"In the mid part of this decade, there were some very hot parts of the country," he said. "Hot because they had easy loans, affordable homes. Places like Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix and other parts of the sunbelt were just attracting migrants in droves."
But now Frey said the population bubble, like the housing bubble before it, burst for those states. Frey is still projecting that Minnesota will lose a congressional seat, but he said it's a much closer call. That has Frey and Minnesota's State Demographer Tom Gillaspy waiting anxiously for the latest population projections to be released later this month.
“I would venture to say that it's a little bit better than 50-50 that we would keep that eighth seat.”Tom Gillaspy, State Demographer
"The difference for that last seat is very small," Gillaspy said.
Gillaspy is in charge of ensuring that every Minnesotan is counted in the 2010 Census. By law, the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives is determined by the census count that occurs every 10 years. Each state gets at least one representative. The rest are determined by population.
Gillaspy said Minnesota is fighting to hold on to its eight seats. If Minnesota loses a seat, it would be the first time since 1960. Gillaspy said 2008 population projections put Minnesota about 4,000 people short of keeping the seat. But he expects that number to shift when the 2009 figures are released.
Gillaspy said Minnesota is fighting to hold on to its eight seats. If the population has declined so much that the state loses a seat, it would be the first time since 1960. Gillaspy said 2008 population projections put Minnesota about 4,000 people short of keeping the seat, but he expects that number to shift when the 2009 figures are released.
"Up until this last year, the bet was a little more than 50-50 against us that we would lose a seat," Gillaspy said. "I would venture to say that it's a little bit better than 50-50 that we would keep that eighth seat."
The stakes for that final seat are huge. For one, having eight, instead of seven, congressional seats increases a state's clout in Washington D.C. The federal government also bases payments and financial reimbursements on figures from the Census.
In other words, states with bigger populations have greater political clout and benefit from federal funding. But Gillaspy said the final determination will come in April when the census is actually taken.
Even if Minnesota hangs on to a seat this time, there's no guarantee that it will keep it in the future. William Frey, with the Brookings Institution said he expects the migration to the Sunbelt states will pick up again once the economy improves.