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Minn. could lose congressional seat, despite uptick in population

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State Demographer Tom Gillaspy
Tom Gillaspy is Minnesota's State Demographer.
MPR Photo/Toni Randolph

Minnesota is on the cusp of losing a congressional seat based on new state population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Two analysts say it's close, but it looks like the state is coming up short by about 1,100 people.   

Next year, the Census Bureau will conduct its count of the nation's population, an effort done every 10 years. When the count is finished, the makeup of the U.S. House of Representatives will change to reflect the population change. 

As it looks now, Minnesota is projected to lose one of its eight congressional seats, but it's close.

"Right now I would say that basically Minnesota is in a dead heat with several other states for that final seat," said State Demographer Tom Gillaspy.  

Gillaspy crunched the recently released 2009 population figures and found that Minnesota would just miss out to Missouri on getting the 435th seat in Congress. 

The difference between California, Texas, Missouri and Minnesota for the last three seats is about 2,200 people -- well within the margin of sampling error, he said.

Gillaspy said his number crunching is just a projection and emphasized the real count will start in mid-March when Americans start filling out their Census forms.

"It's really going to come down to how well we get counted in Minnesota relative to how well other states get counted," Gillaspy said.

The stakes in the count are huge. Not only will Minnesota's political clout diminish with the loss of a seat, the state also stands to lose billions in federal aid because funding formulas are based on population. 

Minnesota's problem isn't that it's losing people -- the latest figures show that the population grew by 35,000. It's that it's not growing as quickly as other states, said Kimball Brace, who runs Election Data Services, a Washington D.C.-based firm that specializes in redistricting and census data.

"What you're having is the population continuing that trend that we've had since World War II of people moving from the Northeast and Upper Midwest heading South and heading West," Brace said.

But both Brace and Gillaspy said the migration isn't as fast as it was in the middle part of the decade. Both said the economic downturn and the collapse of the housing market created the slowest migration pattern since World War II. 

In fact, the figures are so fluid that Brace, who did his own projections, said right now Minnesota would keep its seat based on the latest figures released by the Census Bureau.

"However, when you project that information forward an additional nine months to correspond with the 2010 Census in April, you now see that Minnesota would be losing a seat," he said. 

Both Brace and Gillaspy said Minnesota may have an advantage over some of the other states. They said in past decades Minnesota consistently had high participation in Census counts. They said that could boost Minnesota over other states that have under counted their population in the past.