Politics & Government

Kentucky's population tops 4.3 million, up 7.4 percent during last decade

McClatchy Census graphic
McClatchy Census graphic

Kentucky grew by a modest 7.4 percent during the last decade, putting its population at 4,339,367 on April 1, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday.

The growth is enough for Kentucky to keep its six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bureau released national and state population totals at a Washington news conference, providing the first glimpse at data it collected from American households this year. The next batches of data, including racial makeup, are due in February.

Kentucky's growth was less than the country's. The United States added 9.7 percent to its population during the same period, bringing it to 308 million people. Western and southeastern states continued to boom; northeastern and midwestern states kept declining.

A dozen of the 435 House seats will be shifted among 18 states to reflect the nation's population changes, said bureau director Robert Groves. Among Kentucky's neighbors, Ohio will lose two seats, and Illinois and Missouri each will lose one.

The average House district now will comprise 710,767 people, up from 637,952, Groves said.

Kentucky's legislature will address congressional redistricting during its 2012 session even though the delegation isn't changing size. District lines will be redrawn based on population shifts within the state — and, perhaps, on political preferences among lawmakers in Frankfort.

Kentucky hasn't lost a seat in Congress since the 1990 census. A century ago, Kentucky had 11 House seats, the same as California did. But California exploded in size and today has 53 members of the House. Kentucky grew much more slowly and forfeited nearly half of its House delegation.

Although Kentucky's growth rate since 2000 fell below its 9.7 percent population increase in the 1990s, its performance was perfectly adequate, said one expert.

"You want to have a stable population, not a declining population. But having a lot of growth just for growth's sake is not necessarily a good thing," said Ron Crouch, director of research and statistics at the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training.

"A year ago, someone asked me if Louisville should be worried because Phoenix is growing five times faster than it is," Crouch said. "I asked him, 'Do you really want Louisville to grow five times faster?' "

Although 2010 county-by-county data has not been released, Crouch's agency has prepared detailed maps of Kentucky and the region based on annual population estimates from the Census Bureau through 2009.

Those maps project that two dozen Kentucky counties grew faster than the state average of 7.4 percent from 2000 to 2009. Most were clustered in the middle of the state around the Interstate 75 corridor. They included Fayette, Scott, Jessamine, Clark and Madison counties.

At the other end of the spectrum, two dozen Kentucky counties lost 1.9 percent to 11.4 percent of their populations during the same period. Many were in southeastern Kentucky, which also had some of the state's lowest per capita incomes.

Kentucky hasn't seen the double-digit growth of some other states, Crouch said, but it enjoys assets that those states would envy, including good interstate highway access, mild climate, stable housing prices and dependable water supplies.

For all of Georgia's economic success, for example, the Atlanta metro area is running out of water, Crouch said. Housing markets in formerly white-hot California and Arizona are a tangle of foreclosures, collapsed prices and half-finished subdivisions, he said.

"We need to make the investment in dollars to make sure that our population is educated and skilled," Crouch said. "We don't want to miss out on the opportunities that might come our way."

The fastest-growing state was Nevada at 35 percent. At the bottom was financially struggling Michigan, which has lost 0.6 percent of its population since 2000.

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