Credit: U.S. Census Bureau
See The Census Numbers Behind Georgia’s Growing, Diversifying Population
To say Georgia has changed over the last decade is an understatement, as a surge of new non-white residents flocking to urban and suburban cores has altered the balance of political power in a once-reliably white, Republican and rural-centric state.
According to data from the 2020 Census, Georgia has added more than a million new residents since 2010, driven by an influx of Black, Hispanic and Asian residents concentrated in Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb counties. Those four counties accounted for nearly half of the state’s total growth.
Georgia is on track to be a majority non-white state soon, if not already. Of the 10,711,908 people recorded in the census, 50.06% identify as non-Hispanic white, down from 55.88% in 2010.
The number of Asian Georgians grew by 53% to nearly half a million people; the state’s Hispanic population is now at 1.1 million (a 32% jump from 2010); and more than 300,000 new Black residents alone moved into Atlanta and its surrounding suburban counties.
Just outside Savannah, Bryan County grew by 48% since the last census, the sixth-fastest-growing county in the nation and is home to a new megasite purchased by the state to lure more business development to the area. Forsyth County saw its population swell by 43%, followed by Oconee, Columbia, Jackson and Cherokee.
At the same time, 67 counties lost population over the past decade, primarily in rural Southwest Georgia. Dougherty County saw its population decimated, shrinking nearly 10% since 2010, or nearly 8,800 fewer people. Dooly, Telfair and McIntosh Counties each have almost 25% fewer residents. The counties that had the steepest decline in share of non-Hispanic white residents are fast-growing suburbs and exurbs, such as Forsyth, Henry, Rockdale, Douglas and Gwinnett. Forsyth has seen a nearly 12% shift in its Asian population, while Black growth fueled the shifts in Henry (12%), Rockdale (11.7%) and Douglas (8.9%) counties.
With the release of redistricting data Aug. 12, lawmakers now have the tools they need to redraw 180 state House districts, 56 state Senate districts, 14 Congressional districts and countless local political boundaries in what will be a contentious special session.
Republicans still control both legislative chambers and every statewide office, but Democrats — bolstered by the growing diversity found in the census numbers — flipped the state’s electoral votes and both U.S. Senate seats in the most recent elections.
The changing climate of Georgia’s people and politics are most stark when looking at Georgia’s U.S. House seats, currently held by eight Republicans and six Democrats. The ideal average district size will include 765,136 residents.
Georgia’s 7th District in Gwinnett and south Forsyth counties, currently represented by Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, is more than 94,000 people over the target size. Georgia’s 2nd District, which includes Albany, Columbus and Macon as it stretches across 29 counties in Southwest Georgia, is underpopulated by about 92,000 people.
Beyond balancing the population needs of each districts, the GOP-led redistricting process will also have political implications. Democrats are concerned that their recent victories in the suburban 6th and 7th Districts could be erased by lines more favorable to Republican-heavy exurbs such as Cherokee and Forsyth counties.
But the path to gerrymandering one or both of those districts could see an uphill battle because of the explosive growth in the non-white (and Democratic-leaning) population in Cobb, Gwinnett and surrounding counties.
At the state legislative level, the balance of power will continue to shift away from rural Georgia. Nearly 100 of the 180 state house districts are below the target population size of 59,511 people, including all but six districts south of Columbus, Macon and Augusta.
On the other hand, several exurban House districts will have to shed thousands of people and could see new seats drawn nearby to accommodate growth, especially in Forsyth, Cherokee and Gwinnett.
On the Senate side, the ideal population of 191,284 may be easier to reach, with several incumbents running for higher office and leaving their districts open to being carved up, since 24 of the 56 districts are underpopulated.
Just as in the House, rural-based seats are the smallest and Atlanta’s northern exurbs are the largest, with Forsyth County guaranteed to gain another representative in the Senate. Only two districts south of metro Atlanta are above the target district size.
Republicans hold a 13-seat majority in the state House and six-seat majority in the state Senate, numbers that are unlikely to change drastically after the redistricting process. Population gains in Republican-dominated areas in north Georgia and the Atlanta exurbs will likely be offset by the population loss along the Interstate 16 corridor, just as Democratic gains in Atlanta’s core and suburbs could be negated by stagnation in Southwest Georgia’s Black Belt.
Census data at the city level also shows a more granular shift in a rapidly changing Georgia. The city of Atlanta grew by about 19% and is no longer majority Black, driven by faster growth among white Atlantans. Black people still make up 46.72% of Atlanta’s 498,715 residents.
Columbus, with its 206,922 residents, edged out Augusta (202,081 population) for the title of Georgia’s second-largest city.
In Northwest Georgia, Dalton is now a majority Hispanic city, with 50.85% of its 34,417 residents identifying as Hispanic or Latino., joining Doraville, which is 56% Hispanic.
Twenty-five Georgia cities with a population of 5,000 or more became majority nonwhite over the last decade, from Rome to Warner Robins to Vidalia to Johns Creek, including six cities in Gwinnett County. Locust Grove, Hampton, LaGrange and Powder Springs are now majority Black cities, and Morrow continues to have the highest percentage of Asian Georgians, at nearly 30% of its 6,569 residents.
There are 131 municipalities with more than 5,000 residents and 303 with fewer than 5,000. More than half of the smaller cities lost population, compared to just 16 of the larger areas.
At the more granular level of data, the census results should be taken with a grain of salt to extrapolate some details and trends. Because the census was conducted during the coronavirus pandemic with related delays, some numbers may be off from expectations due to population shifts and potential undercounts.