D.G. MARTIN: North Carolina's Growth Presents Both Gains and Pains
"It is like you picked up the entire population of the state of South Carolina and moved it into North Carolina."
This is the way Ferrel Guillory, director of UNC-Chapel Hill's Program on Public Life, begins to talk about the impact of population growth in North Carolina since he moved here in 1972.
In 1970, North Carolina had a little more than 5 million people. In 2010, we will have more than 9.5 million, up from about 8 million in 2000. The growth rate for the recent 10-year period is 19 percent. Since 1970, our state has almost doubled its population.
Some parts of North Carolina are growing like gangbusters. Here, for example, are the 23 counties that will have grown over the 10-year period at a rate in excess of North Carolina's 19 percent average:
Union (69.7 percent), Brunswick (50.8 percent), Wake (49.1 percent), Camden (44.1 percent), Johnston (43.5 percent), Cabarrus (40.1 percent), Hoke (39.0 percent), Pender (34.3 percent), Iredell (32.6 percent), Mecklenburg (31.0 percent), Chatham (29.8 percent), Harnett (27.8 percent), Currituck (27.4 percent), Franklin (27.1 percent), Lincoln (23.2 percent), New Hanover (23.2 percent), Durham (22.9 percent), Clay (22.7 percent), Pitt (22.0 percent), Davie (21.7 percent), Lee (21.7 percent), Onslow (21.1 percent) and Henderson (20.4 percent).
Although some of the growing counties are in mountain or coastal resort and retirement areas, big growth comes around the state's growing urban regions. By themselves, Wake and Mecklenburg will have added more than a half-million people, accounting for about one-third of the state's growth.
Look at the growth in the counties touching Wake and Mecklenburg -- Union and Johnston, for instance -- and you see that the state's urban and suburban areas are filling up with people.
In the just-released edition of Data-Net, Guillory calls this development the "metropolitanization" of North Carolina.
Look again at the above-average growth rate counties. There are only 23, meaning that the other 77 counties are average or below average in growth -- 19 percent or under.
Some 14 counties are losing population or not growing: Edgecombe (-7.3 percent), Martin (-7.2 percent), Hyde
(-6.5 percent), Northampton (-4.7 percent), Washington (-4.7 percent), Halifax (-4.0 percent), Lenoir (-3.7 percent), Caswell (-1.2 percent), Jones (-1.0 percent), Pamlico (-0.5 percent), Warren (-0.5 percent), Bladen (-0.1 percent), Anson (0.1 percent) and Rockingham (0.2 percent).
The state's rapid and uneven growth has consequences. Several of them are political.
After the 2010 census, the legislature will redistrict itself -- and the state's congressional districts. The political party that controls the legislature after next year's election will do the job -- and give it the opportunity to draw district lines that will give it a competitive edge for the next 10 years.
As a result, next year's partisan battles in competitive legislative races will be wild.
Another result will come about regardless of partisan politics. It will be a shift of political power to the faster-growing areas, especially Wake and Mecklenburg and the nearby counties. Guillory projects that Wake and Mecklenburg together will have about 23 seats in the state House and about 10 Senate seats -- or about 20 percent of each house.
Add to that total the representation from the surrounding counties and the smaller urban areas in the Triad, Asheville, Fayetteville, Wilmington and Greenville. When you do, you will have a legislature that is incrementally, but significantly, more "metropolitanized" than the one that it will replace.
Finally, the state's 10-year growth means that the population of every legislative district will be about 19 percent higher than it was in 2000. For example, the average number of people in a House district will have grown from about 67,000 to about 80,000 and a Senate district from about 160,000 to about 190,000.
All this means an increased workload of constituent service for every legislator. With the increased workload will come more calls for more staff support and for a change from part-time to full-time legislators.
D.G. Martin is hosting his final season of UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. This Sunday's (Oct. 25) guest is Reynolds Price, author of "Ardent Spirits," Price's memoir of his years as a student in England and a young teacher at Duke -- and the time of his writing his first best-selling novel, "A Long and Happy Life."
More like this story