And the Numbers Are…

August 17, 2021


After a four-month delay caused by the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau last week released detailed 2020 population data for all 50 states and certain U.S. territories. 

These numbers are crucially important. They will be used to decide how federal funds are distributed to our communities for things like roads, bridges, hospitals, and daycare centers.  The data will also be used for redistricting, a process done every 10 years that will determine who represents you from the federal down to the state and local levels.

A few take-aways:

  • South Carolina was one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.  The state’s population grew by nearly 500,000 people since 2010, for a total population of 5.1 million in 2020 – a jump of 10.7 percent.  The population increase wasn’t enough, though, to net an additional U.S. House seat. South Carolina will continue to have seven. Currently, six seats are held by Republicans and one by a Democrat.  Just one of our U.S. representatives is female.
  • South Carolina has become more diverse, like the nation as a whole.  Compared to ten years ago, the Palmetto State is a little less White, (62.1 percent of the population in 2020, compared to 64.1 percent in 2010) a little less Black (24.8 percent of the population in 2020, compared to 27.7 percent ten years earlier) and a bit more Latino/Hispanic.  Latinos and Hispanics, the state’s third-largest group, increased their share of the population from 5.1 percent to 6.9 percent.
  • The number of Asian, non-Hispanics in South Carolina also grew massively in many counties (up a whopping 259 percent in Lancaster County; 158 percent in York County; 80 percent in Lexington County; 65 percent in Horry County; 60 percent in Charleston County; and 34 percent in Richland County.)
  • South Carolina has become more urban, less rural.  Twenty-four mostly rural counties saw their population decline.
  • By contrast, South Carolina’s metro areas are swelling – some modestly (Columbia), others respectably (Charleston), still others explosively (Greenville, Lexington, Bluffton, and smaller cities and towns near Charleston.)  
  •  Although rural areas in South Carolina historically dictated state politics, the state’s population shift should give more power to metro areas, which tend to be more progressive.  It ultimately depends, however, on how district lines are drawn and how much and if gerrymandering takes place.
  • Two counties bordering Charlotte, North Carolina — York and Lancaster – saw some of South Carolina’s fastest growth, likely because of their proximity to the Carolinas’ biggest city.
  •  South Carolinians also gravitated toward the coastline, meaning that tourism and coastal growth will continue to be important drivers to the state’s economy.  The heaviest population growth was in Horry County, home to the tourist mecca of Myrtle Beach, where the population jumped by a huge 30.4 percent since the last Census in 2010.
  • South Carolinians are getting a bit older, with 21.6 percent of residents under age 18 in 2020 compared to 23.4 percent in 2010.  

Now, the South Carolina state legislature begins sifting through the data in order to redraw political district lines.  Last week, the state Senate wrapped up its public listening sessions.  The House is set to begin public hearings Sept. 8 in Myrtle Beach.

The party in power, currently Republicans in South Carolina, generally uses census data to increase their influence.  It’s important they hear that we want our districts to represent the interest of all citizens rather than simply protect incumbents. 

How this census data is used in the redistricting process will affect you for the next 10 years. Take the time to consider the current maps, ask which communities share your voting concerns, and pay attention to this crucial process as it unfolds. You can learn more about the redistricting process, how to make your voice heard, and when to act here.

Jan Collins 2021-circle-crop

Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).

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