Thursday, December 30, 2010





Gnashing of teeth and expressions of chagrin were highly audible around California the other day, when the U.S. Census Bureau reported the state will not get an additional seat in Congress for the next 10 years.

Geez, there would sure be a lot more clout from 54 seats in the House than from today’s 53, wouldn’t there? Well, probably not. When California got one new seat in 2000, its influence increased exactly zero.

But at the same time, the increase of about 4 million residents between 1990 and 2000 assured that California got somewhat larger amounts of federal education support, superfund cleanup dollars, welfare and education money, highway funding, water cleanup dollars, anti-gang funding and more. Those kinds of grants are usually handed out on the basis of population.

So the state’s officially-figured growth of 3.8 million persons (slightly more than the population of Oregon, but about 1.5 million less than the state Department of Finance believes was the real figure) between 2000 and 2010 should also make certain that California keeps getting the largest share of any state when it comes to the $400 billion yearly in per-person federal spending.

There will also be no substantial loss to the state from not getting one more seat in the Electoral College. If there’s any deficit in any of this, it will be in the ego department.

Until now,California had always received more seats in Congress after every Census since it joined the Union in the mid-19th Century. Not getting any new slots is a first. Worriers quickly drew the inference that California somehow stopped growing, easy enough with anti-California negativity now commonplace in the national media.

But it’s not so. Even if the growth was “only” the official 3.8 million persons, the rise was consistent with the state’s population increases of approximately 4 million in each of the last four Censuses.

In fact, California’s officially-listed growth over the last 10 years was second only to Texas’ 4.3 million, and a pretty close second, at that. The big growth in Texas, the Census found, came primarily among Hispanics, just like the recent growth here. But Texas had far fewer Latinos in 2000 than it does now, having become much more of a magnet for illegal immigration from Mexico over the last decade than before. Why? The Border Patrol in the early 2000s concentrated more on closing off its San Ysidro sector in Southern California than any other part of the border. Many illegal immigrants shifted to places like Texas and Arizona.

Both will get additional seats in Congress because of it.

Nevada, which grew by just 520,000 persons over the last decade, also gets one more seat, for a total of two. Why would half a million new residents give Nevada a new slot, while almost eight times as much growth gets none for California?

The answer lies in the percentages. With its new official populace of 37.2 million, California accounts for just over 12 percent of all United States residents. The current 53 seats make up just over 12 percent of the House. Nevada’s growth, like that of Texas and Florida, increased its percentage of the total American population, while California’s growth did not.

That’s what comes of being the biggest state to start with. You can grow substantially and almost no one notices, while those who started out much smaller might grow about the same or even much less, but look far larger than before.

There are, of course, benefits from not having had the official growth of 5 million or so it would have taken to net a new seat in Congress. That extra 1.2 million persons would have put further demands on a water system that’s already overtaxed. They would have added to traffic problems, school crowding and urban sprawl, committed crimes and further overfilled prisons and hospitals. And more.

It may also be that California is nearing physical maturity, with its metropolitan areas pretty much built out. Much new construction today comes in the form of tear-downs and build-ups. Unless and until the real estate market revives considerably, that will continue.

All of which means that, yes, California is still growing even in recessionary times. But unlike Nevada, it is not undergoing out-of-control expansion.

If California is indeed reaching a sort of maturity, maybe it’s also time the state’s politicians did the same. This state will again have by far the largest delegation in Congress for the next 10 years, by a margin of 15 seats over No. 2 Texas. But that won’t matter unless California’s representatives start working together for the first time ever, putting the state’s interests over narrow ideology and down-the-line party loyalty.

They’ve never done that, with the result that new jobs and industries that could and maybe should have come here ended up elsewhere instead.


Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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