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Census Findings Show Changes in US Population

St. Louis, Missouri is among US cities that decreased in population between 2000 and 2010
St. Louis, Missouri is among US cities that decreased in population between 2000 and 2010

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. Every ten years the United States government counts the national population and asks people questions about how they live. Results from the twenty ten census are still being organized and studied. But this week on our program, we look at some of the findings released so far to learn how the American population is evolving.


STEVE EMBER: The United States has collected census data since seventeen ninety as a requirement of the Constitution. Last year's census was the twenty-third in the nation’s history.

The population as of April first -- the official census day -- was three hundred eight million, seven hundred forty-five thousand, five hundred thirty-eight.

The population grew by twenty-seven million people over the past ten years. That was an increase of more than nine percent since the last census in two thousand.

Growth in the United States population slowed compared to the last census. Between nineteen ninety and two thousand, the nation’s population grew by about thirteen percent.

In fact, the only decade with slower growth was between nineteen thirty and nineteen forty. The country grew by a little more than seven percent at that time, which was during the Great Depression.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Nevada had the largest population growth in percentage terms during the last ten years. Nevada’s population grew by about thirty-five percent.

The state with the largest population is California. More than thirty-seven million people live there. Wyoming has the smallest population of all the fifty states, at about half a million people.

STEVE EMBER: So why do these numbers matter to the federal government? The results of the United States Census decide how many seats each state will have in the House of Representatives.

The count also guides how more than four hundred billion dollars a year in federal assistance is divided. The more people counted, the more money the states can receive.

This federal money goes to help pay for things like roads, schools and health care.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Officials say about seventy percent of the population took part in last year’s census. An estimated one hundred thirty-four million households were contacted for the census.

Census forms are sent by mail. Census workers visit households that do not return their forms.

For the first time, the Census Bureau sent out millions of bilingual questionnaires. These were in printed English and Spanish. People could request forms in fifty-nine other languages, including Chinese, Korean and Russian.

Census records are made public after seventy-two years. Until then, federal law bars the Census Bureau from sharing individual records with any other agency, such as immigration or anti-terrorism officials.

STEVE EMBER: The Census Bureau has many experts who study the information collected about the population.

Marc Perry is a demographer and chief of the population distribution branch. He says the Census Bureau began releasing more detailed information about each state last month. Census findings will continue to be released throughout the year.

MARC PERRY: "We’re slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Right now it’s very incomplete; you can’t really get a sense of the national picture. But as more and more of those states get filled in, we’ll be able to see things."

FAITH LAPIDUS: The Census Bureau website recently launched an interactive map widget showing local population counts. Users can see population totals and county population changes from nineteen sixty through twenty ten.

The state-by-state information is not yet complete, but Marc Perry says demographers found a clear trend in population growth.

MARC PERRY: "The big pattern overall within the United States is the fastest population growth is in the South and the West."

FAITH LAPIDUS: Most other parts of the country including the Northeast and Midwest had low levels of population growth. This census count marked the first time in American history that the western part of the country had a bigger population than the Midwest.

MARC PERRY: "Michigan’s population actually declined. That was the only state that lost population across the decade.”

STEVE EMBER: Population movement happens for different reasons. But Mr. Perry says economic reasons are the main driving force. The majority of people who move are of working age.

MARC PERRY: "They might tell you that they’re moving for climate, or to be closer to family, or to buy a bigger house or whatever. But for most people under age sixty or sixty-five, job-related reasons are paramount. You can’t just move somewhere because you want to. You need a way to support yourself once you get there.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Census findings show that some cities are better than others at attracting and keeping young people. These include Denver, Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta and Washington. Other cities, like Saint Louis, Missouri, and Birmingham, Alabama, have shrinking populations.

STEVE EMBER: The reasons for moving from one area to another can be different for older people, since jobs are usually not as much of a concern.

MARC PERRY: "Climate is one [reason], being close to family and close to health care resources is a big thing."

STEVE EMBER: Mr. Perry says older Americans often want to live near a big city but not in a big city.


FAITH LAPIDUS: One census finding that recently made news involves local counties and what population experts like Marc Perry call natural decrease.

MARC PERRY: "There are now more counties across the country that are experiencing natural decrease."

Some stories described these as "dying counties." But Mr. Perry says all it technically means is that they have more deaths than births.

The United States has more than three thousand counties. In all, about seven hundred sixty of them are experiencing natural decrease.

Mr. Perry says this does not necessarily mean their population is dropping. There are three ways that populations can grow.

MARC PERRY: "You can grow because people move there from international areas. You can grow if people move there from other parts of the United States. And you can grow if you have more births than deaths. So we call those the three components of change.”


STEVE EMBER: One change that has taken place in the United States in recent times is that Hispanics are now the largest ethnic minority group. Some of their growth is the result of immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries. But it also represents the result of higher birth rates among Hispanics in the United States compared to the general population.

The state of Texas, on the border with Mexico, had an increase of more than four million people over the last ten years. Hispanics represented sixty-five percent of that growth.

The Census Bureau expects racial and ethnic minorities to form the majority of the American population within less than forty years. But even before that, population experts predict that half of all the children in the United States will be members of minority groups.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Demographer Marc Perry says the Census Bureau hopes to release the remaining state population results by the end of this month.

We close our program now with a look at some numbers comparing men and women in America. March is National Women’s History Month in the United States.

The Census Bureau says the United States has four million more women than men. The country had an estimated one hundred fifty-seven million women as of October.

Another area where women outnumber men is in voting. Sixty-six percent of women voted in the two thousand eight presidential election, compared to sixty-two percent of men.

Women also have more education than men. They have more high school diplomas, bachelor's degrees and master’s degrees. But more men have doctoral degrees.

In the workforce, the government says women earn seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by men.


STEVE EMBER: Our program was written and produced by Brianna Blake. I’m Steve Ember.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. You can read and listen to our shows and other programs for English learners at on your computer or mobile device. We welcome your comments. Post them on our site or on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. And when you join us on Facebook, we hope you'll click the "Like" button at the top of the page. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.