As expected, the 2020 U.S. census figures released last week provided a tiny bit of good news for Mississippi along with a sobering dose of significantly bad news.
The good news is that the state will not lose one of its four seats in the U.S. House, where population determines representation. The last time Mississippi lost a congressional seat was in 2000.
The bad news, however, is that Mississippi was one of just three states whose population declined since the prior census in 2010. Mississippi lost about 6,000 residents during the decade, while Illinois lost 18,000 and West Virginia lost a shocking 60,000.
Mississippi’s decline looks even worse when you compare it against its neighbors’ growth: Louisiana up 124,000; Arkansas up 96,000; Alabama up 245,000; Tennessee up 564,000. Looking a bit further away, Texas, Florida, Georgia and both of the Carolinas reported even larger gains.
So basically, the entire South is continuing its decades-long record of population growth — except for Mississippi. That is a bitter pill to swallow. There is no way to spin this: In the free market of residency, our state is not measuring up.
It would be great to blame the population loss on the pandemic, but the census was supposed to be based on April 1 information, which is well before Covid-19 death rates started rising in the state. Besides, other states faced a similar playing field and most of them grew.
The largest reason for Mississippi’s decline is clear in a report from The Associated Press. The state gained 20,000 Black residents, 16,000 Hispanic residents and 4,500 Asian residents during the 2010s. The number of people who identify as a member of two or more races also increased by nearly 12,000.
The only group that declined: White residents, down by more than 48,000. The details aren’t yet available, but it will be interesting to see why this happened. Factors could be low census participation, people moving elsewhere for jobs, a lower birthrate or a higher death rate. It probably will be a combination of all four.
Whatever the reasons, Mississippi’s comparison with the rest of the country in the 2020 census is horrible. The state has a rural character at a time when more people are being drawn to the opportunities available in large cities. This will wind up penalizing us in the perpetual chase for federal dollars, and as the state has no big city, it will be difficult to reverse this trend.
Nationally, the population rose by 7.4% during the 2010s, to 331 million on April 1, 2020. That is almost exactly the same percentage that was recorded during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Those two decades had the smallest population increases over the past century.
The low growth was expected. The Washington Post noted that immigration declined for most of the decade due to the economic crisis in the early 2010s and restrictions by the Trump administration in more recent years.
The national birthrate also has declined, while life expectancy has gone down slightly in the last few years due to rising drug overdoses and health factors like obesity.