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South Dakota census unlikely to affect Congress

MITCHELL, S.D. -- Results of the 2010 Census could change the number of congressional representatives for several states, but some population experts say it is unlikely South Dakota will be one of them.

Jared Ewy, media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said South Dakota's population -- estimated to be approximately 804,000 in 2008 by the Bureau's American Community Survey -- would have to jump to approximately 1.2 million before the state will be given another voice in the U.S. House of Representatives. At present, South Dakota has just one representative in the House -- Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

Given the state's history of population gain, achieving that number is unlikely anytime soon, Ewy said, even with South Dakota's slow-but-steady population gains in recent years.

"In 1910, you had 583,000 people. Since then, South Dakota's only gained another 220,000," Ewy said. "South Dakota's population has stagnated essentially over the past century."

South Dakota had three representatives until 1930, when the number dipped to two. In 1970, the number of representatives in the state dropped to the minimum of one. The law requires the House to have 435 members.

The Census, scheduled for distribution in March, is expected to lead to legislative changes in many states, though. Ewy estimates Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Florida and Georgia all could gain a legislative seat after population results are tabulated. Texas could gain as many as three, while Louisiana, Iowa, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all may lose a seat.

Bill Anderson, political science professor at the University of South Dakota, said it's possible that Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Minnesota also could lose a U.S. House seat each.

While Hurricane Katrina is a likely culprit for a possible Louisiana loss, Anderson said the reason for possible population growth in Texas, Florida and California could be the "out-flight of individuals from the industrial North and just plain old North among the baby boomers settling in the Sunbelt."

"I don't think that South Dakota's increase ... is going to be significant enough to even come close to it getting consideration for another member of the House," said Bill Anderson, political science professor at the University of South Dakota. "I wouldn't expect ... a massive population change."

However, Don Simmons, dean of the College of Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University, said it's possible that South Dakota could gain a representative, given the number of people who are either staying or moving back to the state because of the telecommuting.

"Because of technology, a lot of people who left South Dakota are moving back to smaller communities because they can telecommute anywhere in the world," Simmons said.

Eric Abrahamson, a Rapid City historian and 2006 Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, agrees.

While the 2010 Census might not give the state an additional representative, Abrahamson said he expects more people to either relocate or return to South Dakota, not only because of telecommuting possibilities, but also because of quality of life.

"Over the next 50 years, this kind of life pattern is gong to have a major impact on rural areas in South Dakota," Abrahamson said. "We're going to see a dramatic change in people's residential patterns because of the Internet."

Abrahamson is working on a book called "The New Pioneers," which is expected to cover what he calls "rural America, the Internet and the next chapter in the American Dream."

Anderson, however, doubts that telecommuting will make a dramatic difference in the state's population.

"It still becomes more cost effective for companies to keep people close to their headquarters for meetings rather than flying them out periodically," Anderson said. "I wouldn't expect a massive inflow to the Midwest from those trying to flee the big city."

The number of South Dakota residents -- often called "snowbirds" -- who spend the winter months in warmer states could be a factor in the calculation of South Dakota's population.

Citizens are expected to list their home as the state where the majority of their time is spent. Simmons expects the state's lack of income tax will lead many traveling residents to list their home as South Dakota.

"They want to have the majority of their time in South Dakota so they're not having to pay state income tax in a state that may, at this point, be about to increase their state income taxes," he said.

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