By Jonathan Ko
California could lose a seat in the House of Representatives for the first time in its 169-year history after the 2020 Census, as a trend in domestic migration continues to draw Californians out of the state at higher rates than people move in. California’s allotment of seats will likely drop from 53 to 52, according to a Dec. 30 report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of the 27 states with negative net migration in the past calendar year, California saw the biggest change, with an estimated net loss of 203,414 residents. Though California’s total population will still increase, the Census’ estimate of California’s 2019 population at 39.5 million would place it as one of eight states projected to lose one seat in the House. According to the Census Bureau’s estimations, the other seven states expected to lose a seat are Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
The U.S. Constitution mandates that after each decennial census (conducted in years ending in ‘0’ since 1790), the 435 House votes be redistributed among the states according to their recorded population. Because the number of total representatives is held constant by the Constitution, the representatives gained by states with higher population growth such as Texas and Florida come at the expense of lower-growth states like California and New York.
Adem Michel, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, attributed the exodus to skyrocketing housing prices, high taxes and the prohibitive cost of living in California — all issues on many Bay Area residents’ minds.
Local groups are rallying to make the 2020 Census more accurate by reaching out to hard-to-count populations, such as immigrants, monolingual Spanish-speaking residents, people of color and people who live in unconventional or illegal housing.
The Jakara Movement, based in Fresno, has been reaching out to Sikh residents in the Central Valley to encourage participation in the Census. The Blue Shield of California Foundation spent $2.2 million to help fund dozens of organizations that support census outreach. The Madera Coalition for Community Justice is communicating with nonprofit housing developers and other community partners to ensure that nontraditional housing arrangements are accurately reached out to in the upcoming Census.
The Census will have consequences beyond the makeup of the House or Electoral College. Census data is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to programs like Pell Grants for college students, Medicaid, transportation infrastructure, health programs and school nutrition programs in California.
Activists across the political spectrum have fought over this census for years, most specifically over the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question. The administration claimed the answers to the question would help enforce the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination in elections. However, Democrats opposing the proposal argued against its constitutionality, suspecting that it was a Republican bid to discourage minorities from participating in the Census, taking away what might be Democratic electoral seats.
“Obtaining complete and accurate information for use in determining citizen age voting populations to enforce the Voting Rights Act is a legitimate government purpose,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at the time. “And I determined that the importance of that goal outweighed any potential decrease in self-response rates that may result from people violating their legal duty to respond.”
That argument was struck down by a 2019 Supreme Court decision that ruled 5-4 against the Trump administration’s bid to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The state of California was notably active in the legal resistance to the citizenship question, suing Ross for allegedly violating the Constitution, citing the Constitution’s definition of the Census as an “actual enumeration” of the “number of free persons” in each state.
Contact Jonathan Ko at jonathanko ‘at’ stanford.edu.