Historical shifts in where people live

The places in the United States with the highest populations weren’t always like that. There were shifts over decades. With the recent Census release for state populations, Harry Stevens and Nick Kirkpatrick for The Washington Post go all in with a series of bump charts to show the changes in state population rankings since 1920.

They point out historical markers along the way, split it up by region, and provide an explorer at the end to look at your states of interest. In the end, it all comes down to weather and air conditioning.

Still deciding what I think about those gradient connections.

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Population Growth and Seats Gained

The Census Bureau released state population counts for 2020. Here's how each state gained and lost population and seats.

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States that gained and lost seats with 2020 count

The Census Bureau announced their state population totals, so we can see who gained and lost seats:

The tables aren’t accessible yet, but during the live conference, the bureau noted that the difference between New York losing a seat (which they did) and staying the same was only a difference of 89 people. It’ll be interesting to see these small deltas for all the states.

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Seat apportionment over time

The 2020 Census count at the state level is set for release this afternoon, April 26 at 12pm PST. While we wait, Gregory Korte and Allison McCartney, reporting for Bloomberg, show which states are expected to lose and gain representation.

I appreciate the streamgraph that shows how the distribution of seats changed over the decades, along with the bar chart mouseover so you can see the shift for each state individually.

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How your state might lose or gain representation with Census count

Harry Stevens, Tara Bahrampour and Ted Mellnik for The Washington Post look at how the upcoming Census count affects representation in the House. Montana and Rhode Island are projected to gain and lose a seat, respectively, which switches their positions in terms of seats per population.

The explanation of how counts and representation work, with a progression from abstract concept to specific cases, is on point.

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Technopolitics of the U.S. census

Dan Bouk and Danah Boyd wrote an essay on the data infrastructure and politics behind the decennial census:

Like all infrastructures, the U.S. decennial census typically lives in the obscurity afforded by technical complexity. It goes unnoticed outside of the small group of people who take pride in being called “census nerds.” It rumbles on, essentially invisible even to those who are counted. (Every 10 years, scores of people who answered the census forget they have done so and then insist that the count must have been plagued by errors since it had missed them, even though it had not.) Almost no one notices the processes that produce census data—unless something goes terribly wrong. Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder argue that this is a defining aspect of infrastructure: it “becomes visible upon breakdown.” In this paper, we unspool the stories of some technical disputes that have from time to time made visible the guts of the census infrastructure and consider some techniques that have been employed to maintain the illusion of a simple, certain count.

This process, whether we know what’s going on or not, in turn affects voices and democracy across the country. So it’s kind of important.

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How the Census translates to power, a cat comic

State population dictates the number of seats in the House of Representatives, so ideally, the decennial Census counts everyone and power is fairly distributed. On the surface, that seems straightforward? For NPR, Connie Jin and Hansi Lo Wang explain with a cat comic.

Because cats.

See also the cat guide on spotting misinformation.

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Census undercount

For NYT Opinion, Gus Wezerek and Andrew Whitby on what might happen if the count ends on September 30:

Times Opinion predicted how many people would remain uncounted on Sept. 30, based on each state’s current response rate. Our analysis shows that those undercounts will cheat some states — mostly Republican — out of federal funding and one state out of a congressional seat.

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Census counting during the pandemic

Reporting for The New York Times, Giovanni Russonello on the decennial census during these times:

If households can’t be reached, even by enumerators, then census takers rely on a process known as imputation — that is, they use data from demographically similar respondents to take a best guess at what the missing data ought to say.

“This year I can imagine imputation being much higher, and that will itself be a source of controversy — because imputation involves assumptions,” Dr. Miller said. “No matter what you do at that point, you’re going to have a bunch of places around the country that are unhappy with the numbers, and are going to sue. So there’s going to be a lot of controversy around this.”

Where more imputation is needed, Dr. Miller said, the door opens a bit wider for statistical wrangling — and, potentially, more political influence.

In 2010, 74 percent of households responded. This year, with only about a month left, 63 percent have responded.

In a time when data is ubiquitous and affects so many things that we do, the census count grows more uncertain. Strange.

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Evolution of Census questions

On the surface, the decennial census seems straightforward. Count everyone in the country and you’re done. But the way we’ve done that has changed over the decades. The Pudding and Alec Barrett of TWO-N looked at the changes through the lens of questions asked:

We looked at every question on every census from 1790 to 2020. The questions—over 600 in total—tell us a lot about the country’s priorities, norms, and biases in each decade. They depict an evolving country: a modernizing economy, a diversifying population, an imperfect but expanding set of civil and human rights, and a growing list of armed conflicts in its memory. What themes and trends will you notice?

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