Drawing New Lines - How the 2020 Census Will Affect Tennessee

John M. Dabbs

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Where will the lines be redrawn for the districts?Annie Spratt/Unsplash

The 2020 Census will move the battle lines for some political groups. The data collected from Tennessee will undoubtedly change the size of some districts. How much they will change remains to be seen. We will not know the plan for Tennessee until the end of the year, or early 2022.

Population growth

Tennessee saw record population growth since the 2010 Census. With a population increase of over a half million people, Tennessee's population now comes in at just under 7 million (6.91 million) for 2020. Our state now ranks 16th as the most populous state in the union. That's only 119,077 behind Massachusetts in the 15th spot. The increase is not enough to change our delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Tennessee has held nine congressional seats since the 1980 census.

Moderate increase

Tennessee's population growth slowed, when compared to the previous two decades. The 2000 Census showed growth of more than 800,000 (a 16.7% increase), and the 2010 Census with 657,000 more Tennesseans was an 11.5 percent boost to the state's population.

The moderating population growth reflected the national trend of 7.4 percent growth. The national growth rate is the lowest rate of population increase since the 1930s. The last three decades have resulted in many gains related to migratory gains. More people are moving into the state than the number of people leaving it.

This is fortunate for the state, as the number of home grown Tennesseans continues to fall. Birth rates in the volunteer state continue to decline. 2007 saw the beginning of Tennessee's decreasing birth rates. The trend continues.

Rural Surge

The nation's population growth in the Southern and Western states is a reminder of the search for peace and prosperity. The South's population grew by more than 10 percent in the last decade. Texas and Florida alone helped lead the charge, with increases of nearly 16 percent in Texas and 14.6 in Florida. The population bounty didn't effect all states in the South. Mississippi and West Virginia each experienced a population decrease.

The Western U.S. faired almost as well as the South. Western states saw an average 9.2 percent growth, with nation's highest growth seen in Utah, at 18.4 percent growth. These compare to the Midwest at 3.1 and Northeast region at 4.1 percent growth over the last decade.

Within the state

Solid population growth in Nashville and the surrounding counties, matched with stagnation and some losses in western, eastern and other parts of Tennessee, will bring changes to the boundary lines of many congressional and state legislative districts in 2022.

As a result, a number of congressional and legislative districts will shrink while others expand in order to meet new population requirements.We experienced lots of growth in Tennessee cities, and stagnation or even population decreases in rural areas. The population in Knoxville rose by 12,000 to 190,740. Chattanooga's growth of brought them to 181,099. The population density of Knoxville is higher than Chattanooga, even with their close numbers, as Chattanooga is fifty square miles larger than incorporated Knoxville.

Central Tennessee gains were large in Murfreesboro and Nashville, and even Sevierville in East Tennessee. The opposite end of the state saw a 2% loss in Memphis, bringing their population to 633,104.

Northeast Tennessee

Carter County saw a drop of 1.9 percent in it's population, as well as Johnson County at a 1.6 percent drop. Hancock County dropped by 2.3 percent, and Hawkins County's population fell by 0.2 percent. The last bit of negative growth (decrease) is in Unicoi County, which fell by 2.1 percent.

We saw populations nearly stagnant in both Cocke County and Sullivan County at growth rates of 0.9 percent each. Greene County had minimal growth at 1.9 percent, and more in Hamblen county at 3.4 percent. Washington County had the best growth in the region at 8.1 percent, brining their total population in at 133,001 for 2020 - still less than the region's most populated Sullivan County at 158,163 for 2020.

While state lawmakers must approve a plan prior to the April 7, 2022, deadline, Tennessee county and municipal governments must move more quickly to get their commission, council and school district seats drawn and approved by Jan. 1, 2022.

"My understanding is we have seen population lost in East TN and West TN. As we are required to do every ten years redistricting will be taking place. I anticipate us knowing the plan by either December or early January. There are coordinators for each grand division and legal counsel to assist in the process." - Scotty Campbell, Tennessee State Representative

The lines are drawn in the sand. I suppose that makes them easier to redraw them every ten years. The changes impacting the state will undoubtedly affect us all in some form or fashion. As the Northeast corner of the state remains a conservative stronghold during recent years, we anticipate few changes locally.

The growth of the larger cities could result in some changes on the state level, with population concentrating. Larger cities are commonly home to moderate and liberal policies. Whether or not these are good or bad for a state or district is wholly dependent upon the perspective of those who live there.

Change is the one constant we all experience. It can be good, bad, or just different.

We should all know more near the end of this calendar year.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN
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