I just spent a few minutes playing around with the Census Bureau‘s new widget that shows U.S. population, population density and apportionment totals for the last 100 years (1910-2010). It’s a nicely put together interactive map on the right tied to relevant data visualizations by state – such as charts of population change over time - on the left. I’d encourage you to view the widget (embedded below) in full screen mode.
A few things to note from the graphic that I found interesting:
- You can clearly see the out-migration from the plains during the dust bowl. Take a look at the population changes in the 1940 census to see what I mean.
- You can see really strong population growth in the rust belt in the 1950s and 60s, and relatively flat population growth since.
- The 2010 census shows pretty clearly the end of unmitigated growth the southwest has experienced since the 1910s. The 2010 census showed the slowest growth (13.8%) in the west from 2000-2010.
- We probably need to increase the size of the U.S. House significantly. Montana still hasn’t grow enough to have two representatives apportioned to them, and so almost a million Montanans are represented by one person in the House. On the other side, Wyoming gets the same amount of representation (one) with under 600,000 people. Or Rhode Island, which still has 2 representatives who represent about 530,000 people each.
Even more troubling to me, however, is the notion that a single representative can effectively represent 700,000 people. I don’t think that’s possible. However unwieldy, I think we should strongly consider increasing the number of representatives so that they all represent a maximum number of people, say 50,000. That would give us a little over 6,000 House members. If you’ve ever complained about our two-party system of entrenched interests and the like, I can’t think of a better way to circumvent party politics than having 6,000+ House members. In that setting, retail politics would be far more important than expensive television ads, and other parties would have a shot at organizing and winning seats. My guess is that a more parliamentary style democracy would follow where House members would have to form governing coalitions to elect House leaders and to pass any legislation. Peter Baker’s piece in the NY Times back in 2009 raises similar points.