Analysis: Few areas in Mississippi see boom in population

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A visitor to the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, uses his cell phone to photograph a graphic of the state that depicts census growth or loss in each county over a 10-year period in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Maps on display in the Mississippi Capitol give a vivid picture of how population has shifted within the state during the past decade, and legislators will use those in drawing new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts.

Republican Rep. Jim Beckett of Bruce is chairman of the legislative committee in charge of redistricting. He said during a public hearing in Jackson last week that the first order of business will be redrawing the four congressional districts because federal elections are being held in 2022. State House and Senate races will be on the 2023 ballot.

Mississippi, Illinois and West Virginia are the only states that lost population from 2010 to 2020, according to the Census Bureau. Mississippi did not lose enough people to also lose a congressional seat, but Illinois and West Virginia are losing one seat each.

The only one of Mississippi’s four U.S. House districts that lost population was the 2nd District, which stretches through the Delta, southward along the Mississippi River and eastward into the city of Jackson. It is the state’s only majority-Black congressional district, and the only one represented by a Democrat.

The four Mississippi maps in the Capitol rotunda depict population losses and gains across the state. One shows the U.S. House districts, one shows the 122 state House districts, one shows the 52 state Senate districts and one shows population in each of the 82 counties. The maps were produced by the Mississippi Automated Resource Information System, and they are also online.

The county-by-county map and the two state legislative maps are color-coded like traffic signals. Growth areas are in green, areas with some population loss are in yellow or orange and areas with the highest percentage of population decline are in red.

Yellow and orange are the dominant colors on the county-by-county map, showing the continued population drain from rural areas that have few job opportunities. The growing areas have strong public schools and stable economies.

Eight counties gained 5% to 18% in population during the decade.

Lafayette County, which is home to the University of Mississippi, was the fastest-growing, with a 17.9% increase. That growth is evident with new shopping centers, subdivisions and apartment complexes that have sprung up in places that used to be covered in trees.

Lamar County — next door to the county that is home to the University of Southern Mississippi — had a 15.4% population increase. DeSoto County had a 14.9% increase; it has been one of Mississippi’s fastest-growing counties the past three decades as people migrated southward out of Memphis, Tennessee.

The other dark green counties on the map are Madison with 14.6% growth, Harrison with 11.5%, Rankin with 10.9%, Oktibbeha with 8.6% and George with 7.9%.

Madison and Rankin are suburban communities for Hinds County and the capital city of Jackson. Harrison is on the Gulf Coast and has military installations and casinos. Oktibbeha is home to Mississippi State University, and George is just north of coastal Jackson County.

Ten counties gained up to almost 5% in population. They are Hancock at 4.8%, Forrest at 4.3%, Pontotoc at 4.1%, Stone at 3.1%, Jackson at 2.6%, Union at 2.4%, Itawamba at 2%, Pearl River at 0.6%, Lee at 0.5% and Lincoln at 0.1%.

Hancock and Jackson counties touch the Gulf of Mexico, with Stone and Pearl River just to the north. Forrest County is home to the University of Southern Mississippi. Pontotoc, Union, Itawamba and Lee counties are in northeast Mississippi, which has jobs in furniture and automotive manufacturing. Lincoln County is in southwestern Mississippi, along the Jackson-to-New Orleans route of Interstate 55.

The counties with the largest percentage population losses are all rural and poor. Quitman County lost 25% of its residents, Sharkey was at minus 22.7%, Coahoma was at minus 18.2%, Tallahatchie was at minus 17.3% and Humphreys was at minus 17%.

Republicans hold wide majorities in the state House and Senate, and that bipartisan balance is unlikely to change through redistricting.

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Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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