The Daily Gamecock

Cenus shows Columbia still state's largest city, but Charleston may soon surpass it

Experts say coastal city could become state’s most populated

Columbia, with a population of 129,272, remains the largest city in South Carolina, according to 2010 Census data released last week.

But it may not be that way for long.

The capital city’s growth rate of 11.2 percent over the last decade paled in comparison to Charleston’s 24.2 percent jump. Charleston, with 120,083 residents, is still the second largest city in South Carolina, but with the high growth rates of the city itself and its surrounding areas — North Charleston grew 22.4 percent and Mount Pleasant a whopping 42.5 percent — Columbia could lose its spot as No. 1.  

Robert Oldendick, a USC political science professor, said the last decade’s population trends are likely to continue.

“If I had to guess, I’d say that in 2020 Charleston will be the largest city in the state,” Oldendick said.

The population of South Carolina is now 4,625,364, a 15.3 percent increase from 2000, according to 2010 census data released last week.

That growth rate far outpaces the United States’ overall population increase of 9.7 percent, which brought the nation to stand at 308.7 million residents. As evidence of the Great Recession’s effect on families’ decisions, the nation hasn’t experienced a slower growth rate since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Overall, the South and West accounted for 84.4 percent of the U.S. population increase. Fueling the population growth in the South is a large increase in the number of Hispanics, who accounted for over half the nation’s population growth in the last decade, and a reverse migration of blacks moving from Northern metropolitan areas to Southern suburbs.

The population of Hispanics in Richland County increased by 114 percent since 2000, and the number of Hispanics by 21 percent. Now, whites and blacks each make up 45 percent of the county’s population, with Hispanics accounting for 5 percent and other races comprising the remaining 5 percent.

Todd Shaw, an associate African-American studies professor at USC, attributed the trend to both the South’s economic opportunities and cultural value.

“The South has always been in a sense an ancestral home for African-Americans, given the history of slavery and the concentration of the African-American population in the South,” Shaw said. “The changes over the last 40 years, particularly the springing up of suburban communities around major cities and some to the job growth that has occurred, especially with professional occupations, would certainly attract the black middle class.”

The South’s growth has meant that several states, including South Carolina, are gaining Congressional seats at the expense of Northern and Midwestern states. More seats in Congress usually mean more federal appropriations and national political clout. South Carolina will gain one seat, and Oldendick said he expects the new Congressperson’s district to be centered in Horry County, the home of Myrtle Beach.

“If you look at the population growth, it’s in those states that, certainly in the last election, were largely Republican,” Oldendick said. “I think that it’s going to be good for the Republican Party nationally. Certainly with the redistricting going on they are going to be able to redraw the districts in such a way that they should be safer seats for the Republicans.”

Oldendick said he doubted that the increase in Hispanic and black populations would be enough to mitigate the Republicans’ gains in the state and national arena. But Shaw said blacks may gain more representation locally.

“It may have some impact on a unit of government that’s quite important in the South, and that’s the county government,” Shaw said. “Counties are very important in the South in terms of local administration.”


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