Shrinking congressional districts look for federal help

Michael Macagnone, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Despite explosive growth in other areas of the country since 2010, about 80 congressional districts have lost significant population over the decade -- leaving many looking for help from a federal government consumed by impeachment.

Some districts may have lost 30,000 or more people through 2018, many of them in manufacturing and mining areas in the Northeast, according to Census Bureau data released last month. Most of those districts are represented by Democrats but located in states President Donald Trump won in 2016 by promising new trade deals that have since taken a back seat in Washington.

Long-term population trends have these places losing as much as 5% of their population over eight years, according to census data. The districts that declined by 20,000 or more were concentrated in a stretch from western New York down to Mississippi, including Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio and Arkansas. Two of the districts that lost more than 30,000 people are in Michigan, a state Trump won by about 10,000 votes.

"We have places where the population is going down, and they don't have the locational advantage to turn it around," University of Michigan professor Ren Farley said. "How do we as a nation deal with that? We are much better prepared to deal with population growth than population decline."

The congressional districts that lost population are primarily former industrial, agricultural or mining areas that have seen decadeslong declines in population.

Representatives from those districts think that efforts in Congress can at least help their communities, if not reverse the long-term trend. Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, whose Flint, Mich., district lost about 30,000 people between 2010 and 2018, said he's particularly interested in the labor enforcement provisions of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement meant to supplant the North American Free Trade Agreement.


"It's really mostly loss of the manufacturing because it's to technology, but it's also the loss of jobs to low wage parts of the country and low wage parts of the world," Kildee said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hasn't brought USMCA to the House floor yet, and all but a handful of House-passed bills have been buried by the Republican-controlled Senate. On top of that, Trump has threatened to suspend legislation entirely while the House weighs impeaching him.

Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., also is looking to USMCA to bring relief to his district, which has declined by about 24,000 people through 2018 as part of a broader trend in the western half of the state.

Thompson said the dairy farmers in his district have been squeezed since an industry downturn and regulatory actions in 2010. Milk prices have consistently stayed low, and passing the USMCA would give farmers expanded access to the Canadian market for milk and milk products.


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