WASHINGTON – The US's great migration south and west is slowing, thanks to a housing crisis that is making it hard for many to move. Most southern and western states aren't growing nearly as fast as they were at the start of the decade, pausing a long-term trend fueled by the desire for open spaces and warmer climates, according to population estimates released Monday by the Census Bureau.
The development could impact the political map when House seats are divvied up following the 2010 Census. Southern and western states will still take congressional seats away from those in the Northeast and Midwest -- Florida could gain as many as two House seats and Texas could pick up four. But some seats hanging in the balance could stay put, and California could be in danger of losing a seat for the first time since it became a state.
"People want to go to where it's warm and where there are a lot of amenities. That's a long- term trend in this country," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"But people have stopped moving," he said. "It's a big risk when you move to a new place. You need to know that moving and getting a new mortgage is going to pay off for you."
The Census Bureau released state population estimates as of July 1, 2008. The data show annual changes through births, deaths, and domestic and foreign migration.
Utah was the fastest growing state, knocking Nevada from the top ranks. Utah's population climbed by 2.5 percent from July 2007 to July 2008. It was followed by Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado. Nevada was ranked eighth, after 23 years of ranking in the top four each year.
Nevada was listed as the fastest growing state a year ago when the 2007 estimates were released. But adjustments to the 2007 numbers, released Monday, show that Utah was the fastest growing state in 2007 and Nevada was ranked fourth.
Only two states -- Michigan and Rhode Island -- lost population from 2007 to 2008, according to the new estimates. But growth rates fell in many states, even for those that had been adding residents at a rapid clip.
Foreign immigration has slowed since the start of the decade and fewer people are moving around within the nation's borders. A study by the Pew Research Center found that only 13 percent of US residents moved from 2006 to 2007 — the smallest percentage since the government began tracking movers in the late 1940s.
Florida has attracted more people from other states than any other state in the nation since the start of the decade. However, from 2007 to 2008, more people left Florida for other states than moved in -- a net loss of nearly 9,300 people. The state still gained population from births and foreign immigration, but growth was slower than in previous years.
From 2007 to 2008, California had the biggest net loss of people moving to other states — more than 144,000 people. It was followed by New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Illinois.
The states that attracted the most people from other states during the period were Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina.
The population shifts will be felt following the 2010 census, when the nation apportions the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, based on population. Seats in Congress also determine the number of electoral votes states have in presidential elections.
Texas stands to be the biggest winner, picking up as many as four seats, while Ohio could be the big loser, giving up as many as two seats, according to projections by Kim Brace of Election Data Services, a Virginia-based firm that crunches political numbers.
Other states projected to lose single seats are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Brace projects Arizona to add two seats, while Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah could add one each. Florida could add one or two seats, Brace said.
Numerous other House seats are in play, depending on whether the nation's economic problems continue to affect population trends. As many as 13 states could gain or lose seats, depending on population trends over the next two years and the accuracy of the 2010 census, Brace said.
California illustrates the importance of an accurate head count. The Census Bureau estimates California has fewer than 37 million people, putting it in danger of losing a House seat. State demographers, however, put the population at more than 38 million, taking the seat out of play.
"If I was somebody in charge of one of the states sitting on the edge, I would be thinking about how I could improve the census in my state, because it does have an impact," Brace said.