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Behind The Demographics Shifts That Are Reshaping Political Power In The U.S.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Here's one takeaway from the new U.S. Census numbers out this week. The Northeast continues to stagnate or lose population. And places like Texas, Colorado and Florida - well, they're growing, so much so that those states will add seats in Congress next session. We wanted to dig in on how population and political power are shifting in this country. And to do that, we're going to focus on one state - Texas. It is getting two new seats, the only state that'll get more than one. Here to explain why, Alexa Ura. She is demographics reporter at the Texas Tribune. Hi there. Welcome.

ALEXA URA: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: It feels like we've been hearing about Texas growing for a while now. What jumped out at you from these new 2020 census figures from Texas?

URA: I think as someone who's been watching this pretty closely over the last few years, it did indeed end up increasing largely because of residents of color and a growing population there. While our growth wasn't as big as it was out of the 2010 census, it was still pretty ginormous. And the implications of that both politically and economically are pretty huge. And I say that knowing what it sounds like to hear a Texan saying that.

KELLY: Just to tease out a little bit what's driving the growing population, is this also people deciding, hey; I'm going to move; I'm not going to put up with New England weather or whatever it is in other parts of the country, and moving to Sunbelt states like Texas?

URA: Yeah. I think if you look at the growth in a place like Texas over the last decade, often people think of Texas and think of sort of an immigration hotbed. But in reality, a lot of our growth has been from growing families, particularly families of color. When you look at the share of Texans who are 18 and younger, they're going to skew toward Hispanic and Black. And of course, you know, we are known as a state that is pulling people from many other states. And a lot of that is driven by sort of the economic pools that exist in Texas.

KELLY: And explain what those are.

URA: Yeah. We have a pretty diverse economy, right? So in Houston, we've got the oil and gas industry. In Austin, we've got a lot of tech industry. But it's also, you know, the farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley. And when you combine all of those things, you end up with a state that creates jobs and has jobs available.

KELLY: Baked into all of this is political clout. Population as reflected in the census numbers, of course, determines how many members of Congress from the state, how federal resources are allocated. What are the implications of a more politically powerful Texas?

URA: When you think about this growth in congressional districts, it obviously translates to two more votes in the Electoral College. And Texas is among those red states where the margin has narrowed significantly at the presidential level over the last few election cycles. And so when you think of emerging battleground states, these are states that are diverse. And when you look at a state like Texas, it could end up being sort of a really interesting case study for how politics do shift when you have folks who are Hispanic and Black becoming a larger and larger share of the electorate overall and shifting the politics.

KELLY: Do you think population trends in Texas give us some hint of where the rest of the country may be headed?

URA: I don't think what's going on in Texas is unique to Texas, especially when you think of the larger states in the country and those that are growing. They have a pretty large Hispanic population, too, when you think about Texas and what representation means and the people being represented are of different backgrounds and different identities and what that means for who holds power in the state.

KELLY: Alexa Ura of the Texas Tribune, thank you very much.

URA: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.