Census figures cost Illinois a congressional seat

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois will lose a seat in Congress because of stagnating population, continuing a long slide that has cost it political influence nationally, according to the 2020 census results announced Monday.

It's become a decennial tradition in the state, which has forfeited 10 U.S. House seats in the last nine censuses, soon leaving it with 17.

The census reported that Illinois' population in 2020 was 12,822,739, a drop of 0.32% from a decade earlier. The number reported was the one the census uses for determining congressional apportionment, which includes 10,231 Illinoisans living overseas.

The decrease will likely spell a loss of federal funding while at the same time strengthening Democrats' political grip on the state.

"Most people who build a statistical model on how much federal money does a state get will find that more seats means more money," said Brian Gaines, political scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The U.S. population is just over 331 million, an increase of 7.4% from 2010. That represents a lower decadelong growth rate than any but the nation's 7.3% increase from 1930 to 1940, acting Census Director Ron Jarmin said in a video news conference.

Illinois joins California, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia in losing one seat in the House. Six states, led by Texas, which claims two, will add members to their congressional delegations.

Census numbers weren't available Monday for counties or cities such as Chicago, the nation's third-largest. Other estimates have put the city's population at 8.87 million, up 2.8% from a decade ago.

With Democrats holding 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats, controlling the governor's office and dominating the state Legislature, little else should change, Gaines said. The 14th Congressional District, running from the top to the bottom of the Chicago metropolitan area on its far western edge, will likely be redrawn to boost Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Democrat who narrowly won a second term last fall by just over 1 percentage point against Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis.

Democrats are likely to make another run at strengthening the 13th District in central Illinois, where Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis has won five straight elections in a district that already leans Democratic.

"We weren't really expecting the partisan balance to shift very much," Gaines said. "It's already tilted in a way that slightly exaggerates how Democratic the state is."

Fewer Electoral College votes will mean a little less influence on the national stage. But Illinois, a one-time bellwether whose voters chose the winning candidate in every presidential election from 1920 to 1996, has turned so heavily Democratic in national elections that it's no longer competitive; the last time it was in play for the GOP was 1988.

What Illinois loses nationally in terms of numerical influence, however, it can make up with individual influence in the form of Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, said Glenn Poshard, a Democrat who represented extreme southern Illinois in Congress from 1989 to 1999. Durbin, the Senate Democrats' No. 2 member, was elected to a fifth term last fall.

The cosmetic change - larger districts drawn to cover more ground for each member - aren't as immediately apparent but will eventually become evident to constituents.

Poshard recalls complaining to colleagues in the House dining room about his district's size. He said he kept quiet after Rep. Pat Williams, then one of two House members from Montana, described a district that would stretch from Chicago to Washington, D.C.

But voters in Montana - which regains a second congressional seat lost after 1990 - or similar expanses such as Wyoming are familiar with House members being stretched thin across an entire state. In Illinois, where districts keep getting larger, constituents grow impatient and officeholders, who rush home after a Monday-to-Thursday congressional week, get frustrated, Poshard said.

"You've got Friday and part of Saturday to cover a whole district, and mine had 30 counties in it," he said. "It's difficult to get around and meet with the county boards and the regional economic development people and all the folks that want to talk to you."

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