Rapid growth in suburban counties and declines in southeastern and western Oklahoma in the last decade will have political implications when state legislators redraw the lines for districts this year.
More than 50 of Oklahoma's 77 counties grew in the last decade as the state's overall population grew 8.7 percent to 3,751,351 people, according to Census Bureau data released Tuesday.
They were led by Canadian County, which grew by 32 percent to more than 115,500 people. On the eastern border of Tulsa County, both Rogers and Wagoner counties grew by more than 23 percent since 2000.
At the other end of the scale, 23 Oklahoma counties suffered population losses. They included the Panhandle's Cimarron County, which fell by more than 21 percent to 2,475 residents.
Jackson County in the southwest part of the state had the biggest numerical loss. That county lost almost 2,000 people, a drop of 7 percent. It now has 26,446 residents.
Oklahoma County remained the state's most populous county, growing 8.8 percent to 718,633 people. Tulsa County now has 603,403 people, a growth rate of 7.1 percent.
The numbers from Census 2010 are the first detailed look at population, race and ethnicity for many areas, including counties, cities and congressional districts.
Steve Barker, senior research analyst with the state Commerce Department, said the state's metropolitan areas showed good growth in the last decade. They were led by the Oklahoma City metro area, which grew 14.4 percent. The Tulsa metro area grew 9.1 percent, and Lawton's metro area grew 7.9 percent.
“What's interesting about the Lawton growth is that it came after population estimates for the last several years had been looking at flat growth,” Barker said.
For the state's two largest cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa headed in opposite directions. Oklahoma City grew 14.6 percent to almost 580,000 residents. Tulsa, meanwhile, suffered a slight loss of 0.3 percent and had 391,906 residents.
Overall, cities and towns across Oklahoma grew by 9.5 percent since 2000. That was in line with city growth nationally in the last decade, Barker said. Oklahoma's unincorporated areas — or what most people call rural areas — grew 6.4 percent in the last decade.
“Plain and simple, we've seen some good business relocations and expansions taking place here recently in Oklahoma,” Barker said. “Some of these businesses bring employees with them. Other new residents are attracted by our strong business and employment markets.”
About 2.85 million Oklahomans lived in cities and towns in 2010. That compared with about 894,000 people who lived in unincorporated areas.
Five cities with more than 5,000 people showed population gains of more than 50 percent in last decade: Blanchard, Jenks, Piedmont, Bixby and Owasso.
Keith Gaddie, a redistricting expert and political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, said the new population totals will mean big changes for many state House and Senate districts.
The House and Senate have until the end of session in May to finalize their new boundaries and send the plans to Gov. Mary Fallin. There is no strict deadline for congressional lines, but they are supposed to be finished before the candidate filing period in June 2012.
Ideally, each new Senate district should have about 78,000 residents and each new House district should have 37,000 residents. There are 48 Senate districts and 101 House districts in the Legislature.
Generally, suburban growth around Oklahoma City and Tulsa will mean many of those legislative districts will shrink in size to reflect population growth and density. Sparsely populated rural districts will expand in size to reflect updated population requirements.
“With the (Republican) majorities you have, if you're a term-limited Democrat, you're probably the odd man out,” Gaddie said.
With the growth in Canadian County, Gaddie said it should now be entitled to three House seats. But political considerations might mean more House districts will reach into Canadian County to protect incumbents, he said. The same could happen in other central Oklahoma suburban counties and in suburban counties around Tulsa.
“There is a lot going on south and west of the Oklahoma City metro that is interesting,” Gaddie said.
The latest census figures show the state's Hispanic population growing 85 percent to more than 332,000 people. Hispanics now make up 8.9 percent of the state's population.
Gaddie said Hispanic growth in Oklahoma has continued despite progressively tougher immigration-related laws passed in the last few years.
“Despite the expected impact of House Bill 1804, there has not been a mass exodus of Hispanics in Oklahoma,” Gaddie said of the wide-ranging 2007 bill that toughened penalties for undocumented immigrants, ramped up police enforcement and penalized employers for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.