Census: Tennessee sees big growth in, around Nashville

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(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Areas in and around Nashville saw a population boom over the last decade, while the greater Memphis region saw low or no growth, or lost people, according to detailed national population data from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday that lawmakers in Tennessee will use to redraw state and congressional districts currently dominated by Republicans.

The updated information sets the stage for work on new political maps in the state Legislature, where Republicans hold a 73-26 House edge over Democrats and a 27-6 margin in the Senate, both supermajorities. The state grew by 8.9% — exceeding the 7.4% national rate — and increased to 6.9 million residents in 2020 from 6.3 million reported in 2010.

Tennessee won’t gain or lose any congressional districts. The House delegation currently includes seven Republicans and two Democrats, whose districts center on Nashville and Memphis.

Tennessee’s growth was driven in large part due to Middle Tennessee, where multiple counties making up the Nashville metropolitan statistical area registered the 19th-highest collective rate among its peers nationally at 20.9%. It’s reflective of a trend in the data showing that much of the fastest growth occurred in the nation’s largest cities and their suburbs.

Nashville-Davidson County itself saw a 14.2% population boost, adding about 89,200 people through the decade and checking in at second-most populous in the state, the numbers show. Its suburbs saw a bigger percentage boost, with Williamson County increasing by 35.2%, or 64,500 people, and Rutherford County jumping up 30%, or about 78,900 people. Several other Middle Tennessee counties saw population increases that exceeded 20%.

It remains unclear whether Republican lawmakers will try to carve Nashville into multiple congressional districts in order to try to flip the seat of Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper into the GOP column.

Shelby County, which includes Memphis and remains the most populous county, saw a small population increase of 0.2%, or 2,100 people, while multiple counties in West Tennessee saw population drops. Fayette County, which is east of Shelby, was one exception, with a 9.3% increase.

Some areas of East Tennessee, meanwhile, also outpaced the state’s average population increase. Knox County, which includes Knoxville, jumped up by 10.8%, with Loudon County increasing by 13% and Sevier County, a Smoky Mountains tourism destination, up by 9.4%. Hamilton County, which includes Chattanooga, neared the state average with 8.8% growth, and nearby Bradley County grew by 9.8%.

The release of the redistricting data culled from the 2020 census came more than four months later than expected due to delays caused by the pandemic. The redistricting numbers states use for redrawing congressional and legislative districts show where white, Asian, Black and Hispanic communities grew over the past decade.

It also shows which areas have gotten older or younger and the number of people living in dorms, prisons and nursing homes. The data covers geographies as small as neighborhoods and as large as states. An earlier set of data released in April provided state population counts and showed the U.S. had 331 million residents last year.

Tiny Trousdale County ended up with the highest percentage growth in the state at 47.6% — new population of about 11,600 — because of a large state prison established since the 2010 census.

A spokesperson for the state Senate’s leader, GOP Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, said the public and lawmakers will have the chance to weigh in on the process and submit their own statewide redistricting proposals.

Lawmakers will form a committee on redistricting and their proposals will be taken up in the 2022 legislative session that begins in January. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has veto power over the finalized plan, but he’s not expected to put up many objections.

Legislative Democrats urged actions beyond what Republicans are promising, including public meetings around the state that are livestreamed and the release of the first drafts of proposed maps this fall.

In 2010, the congressional redistricting plan stopped short of splitting traditionally Democratic Nashville into several districts.

Lawmakers approved the new congressional and legislative plans in January 2012. The Senate seat plan was later challenged in state court, with plaintiffs arguing it unnecessarily split up too many counties — particularly around Memphis, which has the state’s largest Black population. However, the plan was eventually upheld.

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