Ocean State likely to lose House of Reps seat

R.I. population trends indicate stasis, cause concern for 2020 reapportionment

Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2015

Unless Rhode Island gains 25,000 residents by 2020, it will lose its second seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as a result of reapportionment, according to Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center.

The number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives is fixed at 435, so “any gains in one state are offset by losses in another,” Tippett said. The state’s population “would really have to grow at a rate that’s pretty inconsistent with past trends to retain a second seat,” she added.

These circumstances come amidst a larger migratory movement in which Northeastern and Midwestern states are at risk of losing their house seats, while Southern and Western states are more likely to make gains. According to Tippett’s research, eight states will likely lose one of their seats in the 2020 reapportionment — only one of which is located outside of the Northeast or Midwest. Eight states could gain seats — all of which are located in the South or West.

“To some extent, population shifts ebb and flow, but we’re in the middle of a really long growth period for the southern and western portion of the United States,” Tippett said. This growth can be attributed to a better cost of living and better jobs in the South and West, she said.

This situation could pose a problem for Rhode Island’s two current representatives, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., as they would ultimately be forced to compete against each other for the sole position, said Ted Nesi, WPRI political and economic correspondent.

“They’re both pretty young, and both of them have pretty good luck winning reelection,” he said, adding that both representatives might have to confront that “a seat that looks pretty safe can go up in smoke and force them to figure it out.”

The loss of even one seat can impact the state’s delegation and the average Rhode Islander, said Wendy Schiller, professor of political science and public policy.

“Two is always better than one when it comes to members of Congress,” Schiller said. “Losing a seat means losing access to resources, earmarks and general clout in the party,” she added.

Growing the population could prove to be a challenge for Rhode Island officials, as residents must typically deal with “high taxes, high cost of housing — which makes it more expensive for people to buy property here — and a lack of jobs, especially lack of good jobs,” Nesi said.

To address this challenge, Gov. Gina Raimondo could try introducing a loan forgiveness program, Schiller said. The program could include loan forgiveness or a tuition waiver if a Rhode Island college graduate stayed in the state for a number of years after graduation, she said, though she noted that the program could be expensive.

“Programs like that — that limit our brain drain and keep our talent in Rhode Island — would make a difference,” Schiller said. “I don’t know if it would add up to 25,000, but every thousand counts.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Wendy Schiller is an associate professor of political science and public policy. In fact, she is a professor of political science and public policy. The Herald regrets the error.