US population rise slowest since Depression: Census (AFP)

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WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US population grew in the past decade at its slowest rate since the Great Depression as Americans left industrial regions hard hit by the recession, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

The long-awaited report handed seats in Congress to states that supported President Barack Obama, but also to fast-expanding southern and western states that mostly support his rival Republican Party — chief among them, Texas.

Releasing the first data from the survey required every 10 years under the Constitution, the Census Bureau put the US population at 308,745,538 as of April 1, 2010.

The population of the world’s largest economy rose 9.7 percent between 2000 and 2010, the slowest rate since the 1930s when the figure was 7.3 percent.

Census chief Robert Groves was cautious about attributing the slowdown to the recession, noting that most wealthy countries were producing fewer children.

“So part of it is that and part of it might be the recession. We’ll never really be able to piece those things apart,” Groves told a news conference.

Unlike during the Great Depression, the United States has maintained immigration levels over the past decade. Groves said that immigration accounted for 40 percent of population growth in the 2000s.

The United States still has a higher growth rate than most wealthy countries, in part due to immigration. In several countries such as Japan and Germany, the population is declining.

“For a country the size of the United States and at this stage of development, this isn’t particularly slow growth. There are any number of European countries that would love to be growing at nearly 10 percent,” said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center.

He attributed the slower growth rate largely to aging, with more American women moving over the past decade beyond their prime child-bearing age.

A separate study released by the National Center for Health Statistics found that US births declined three percent in 2009, slipping below the rate at which a generation can replace itself for the second straight year.

Still, the US fertility rate — about two children for every woman in her lifetime — is above that in virtually every other developed nation.

Legal immigration advocates have argued that the United States can accommodate more residents, particularly those with family ties or who offer special skills vital for the 21st-century economy.

But political momentum has shifted away from immigration reform, with Republicans in the Senate last week defeating a proposal backed by Obama that would have offered a pathway to citizenship for young people living illegally in the United States if they attended university or joined the military.

For the first time in history, more people lived in the sunny American West than in the largely industrial and agricultural Midwest, the Census data showed.

The fastest-growing state was Nevada, home to gambling and entertainment haven Las Vegas. Nevada grew by 35.1 percent, even though its housing market has been one of the most severely hit in the economic downturn.

Michigan, which includes the devastated motor city of Detroit, was the only state that lost people. Its population slipped 0.6 percent. Puerto Rico, a self-governing US commonwealth, also saw a 2.2 percent population drop.

The Census is used to apportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives — and, by correlation, each state’s power in electing the president.

The Republican bastion of Texas picked up four seats to have 36 in the House — second only to California, which kept steady at 53 seats.

Other states that gained seats included Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Utah and — almost alone among states seen as reliably Democratic — Washington state.

States that lost seats included the Democratic strongholds of Massachusetts, Michigan and New York, as well as industrial swing states Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The breaking news, US population rise slowest since Depression: Census
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