2010 Census numbers reveal South's rapid growth, increasing political clout

It's official: The 2010 Census numbers have been released, and the South's projected growth in population and political clout -- which Facing South has been writing about for over two years -- is now reality.

Here are some of the highlights from the Census data released today:

* 13 Southern states* accounted for nearly half -- 49 percent -- of the nation's growth since the 2000 Census. The big leader was Texas, which itself accounted for 15.7 percent of the 27.2 million people added to the nation's count over the last decade.

* Thanks to this ongoing shift of the U.S. population southward, these 13 Southern states now account for 34 percent of the U.S. population.

* As expected, this will translate into a gain in political clout: Southern states will pick up a total of eight Congressional seats and Electoral College votes, at the expense of states in the Midwest and Northeast. It's also twice as many as Western states, which will gain four seats and votes.

* The states winning in the South:

Texas +4
Florida +2
Georgia +1
South Carolina +1

Louisiana will lose a seat, thanks to the still-depressed population numbers from Hurricane Katrina and subsequent disasters, making the South's net gain come to seven seats/votes.

GOP gain?

Many news accounts are describing this as a gain for Republicans, given that the bulk of the gains came in GOP-leaning states.

This is true in one way: Because Republicans control all of the Southern legislatures that are picking up seats, they'll be in charge of redistricting and drawing the political maps to make sure additional seats benefit their interests.

But in the long-term, Democrats stand to benefit more than the GOP from the picture emerging from the Census data. As has Facing South reported before, the single biggest factor in the exploding population growth of Southern states is the region's surging Hispanic/Latino population, which has historically voted Democratic.

This, combined with growth in African-American communities in the South, is projected to double the number of "majority-minority" counties in the South over the next generation.

How much and how fast Democrats gain from these shifts will depend almost entirely on their willingness to invest the time and energy needed to capitalize on them. And in the short term, Republicans hold most of the cards.

Another fact revealed in today's numbers: Of the 10 counties with the highest poverty levels in the 2010 Census, all 10 of them are in Southern states.

* Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.