Oklahoma stands to benefit from demographic trends

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: January 3, 2013
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POPULATION shifts and birth and death rates point to a nation on the move — toward older age, childlessness and single status. U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2012 show that Oklahoma isn't moving much at all.

The state's growth rate is 0.81 percent, a figure that may save Oklahoma from losing another seat in Congress but not help regain the one we lost after the 2000 census. More telling, perhaps, are other indicators. Oklahoma's “natural” population increase (births over deaths) exceeds 4 percent. Its net migration rate (people arriving versus people leaving) is nearly 4 percent.

The country as a whole is seeing a leveling of population growth as the average age of Americans rises and women wait longer to bear children — if they have them at all. Meantime, hard economic times have slowed immigration levels.

The states with the fastest growth are generally in the South and West; typically, they are red states in political terms. The highest overall growth came in North Dakota, owing to the energy boom, but the blue state of Oregon and the purple state of Colorado are also seeing growth.

Not so in the most liberal state of them all, Vermont, or in Rhode Island. Those states are losing population.

Some political conclusions can be drawn from these figures and competing interests will find something to tout. For example, Oklahoma's pro-growth, pro-business leadership or its vibrant energy sector hasn't translated into rapid growth. But it has in Texas, which picked up three congressional seats after the 2010 census. Colorado, which supported Barack Obama in two elections, is growing faster than Oklahoma. So are California and Washington.

Our view is that pro-business states are better positioned to take advantage of economic recovery because of job opportunities. Young adults who are belatedly leaving their parents' nests will migrate to places with the best employment opportunities. Tax policy might play a role as well, but the trend toward more single young adults, more childless couples and more old people dependent on Social Security and Medicare portends continued support for Democratic politicians who, like Obama, pander to their interests.

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