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Most Pennsylvania counties shrank, Census data finds

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(By Kristen Smith – The Center Square) – Most of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties saw population declines over the past decade, with a few exceptions near Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

The news comes from the latest U.S. Census data released Thursday, which reported Pennsylvania’s total residents exceeded 13 million in 2020, leaping over Illinois to become the fifth most populous state in the nation.

Still, it grew just 2.4% overall as populations dropped north of Interstate 81 and west of the Susquehanna River, continuing a trend that dates back more than 30 years.

Overall, the United States grew 7.4% between 2010 and 2020, with large gains in the southwest, Texas and Florida. Nationwide population growth has likewise declined in each Census since 1990, though researchers report the most recent figures are the smallest expansion since the 1930s.

“Since the 1950s, percentage increases have generally been declining each decade,” said Marc Perry, senior demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau’s population division. “This past decade’s 7.4% increase was lower than the previous decade’s 9.7% increase and was, in fact, the second lowest percent increase ever.”

In Pennsylvania, just one county – Cumberland, which shares a western border with the state’s capital city of Harrisburg – grew 10%. An additional nine counties, most located between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, saw populations increase between 5% and 10%.

In the Pittsburgh region, Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties reported between growth between 0.7% and 5.4%. 

Centre County, home to the Pennsylvania State University’s main campus, grew nearly 3%. In the northeast, Luzerne, Lackawanna and Pike counties also saw increases ranging from less than 1% to nearly 3%.

Phoenix also displaced Philadelphia as the fifth largest city in the United States. 

The data will help state legislators redraw congressional districts after losing an 18th seat. Pennsylvania has seen its districts reduced in every reapportionment since the 1930s.

Last month, House Republicans announced a new website to gather public input about how to best redraw the maps. 

The state’s recent reapportionment history, however, isn’t far removed from legislators’ minds.

In 2011, critics argued that Republicans – who, at the time, controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the executive office – gerrymandered maps to cement their power that resulted in bizarre and nonsensical district borders.

The state Supreme Court tossed the maps in 2018 and imposed its own boundaries. The redrawn districts flipped a 13-5 Republican majority to a 9-9 even split.

The new process, as outlined in legislation authored by Rep. Wendi Thomas, R-Richboro, will aim to prevent mistakes of the past.

State Government Committee Chairman Seth Grove, R-York, said the new process “is significantly different.”

“I don’t remember any public input this early on, particularly at the scope of saying ‘here go draw your communities of interest’ and go draw a map,” he said.

His committee will continue hosting public hearings about reapportionment through mid-October, with the final map due in December, Grove said.

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