Over the past 10 years, Virginia has grown by more than a million people. More than one in every 10 Virginians didn’t live in the state a decade ago.
But that eye-popping growth masks a regional reality: The state’s population shifts have been uneven.
Parts of the state, mostly in Northern Virginia, look a lot like the dynamic and diversifying Sun Belt states of the Southwest. And other parts of Virginia have more in common with the Rust Belt of the Midwest.
In response to the 2010 Census, the Virginia General Assembly will convene its once-a-decade special legislative session Monday to redraw the boundaries of the state’s legislative districts.
When legislators did the same in 2001, they left the 100 House of Delegates districts with about 70,000 people each.
But Prince William County’s District 13, which includes Gainesville, has nearly tripled in size. And in other parts of the state, there are places such as District 91, which includes sleepy Poquoson, some of York County and part of Hampton. Census figures show that District 91 has shed more than 7,300 residents since 2000.
No other place has grown or shrunk as much as the two districts, which are about 140 miles apart.
The General Assembly will spend the week debating incumbency and partisan advantage. The political parties will probably accuse each other of drawing crazy, gerrymandered districts.
But behind their political maneuvering, their real task will be to draw maps that acknowledge the yawning demographic gap that has opened between places such as District 13 and District 91.
At 7 a.m. every day, the Poquoson coffee club gathers at its usual spot, a McDonald’s at the center of the bedroom waterfront community. For decades, many residents have worked at Langley Air Force Base, just outside town, the shipyard in Newport News and the naval base in Norfolk, farther south.
The group’s members, most of them retired, joked that newcomer Joe Lorenczi, 80, hasn’t earned his citizenship papers. He moved to Poquoson in 1971.
Most of the members, in their 70s and 80s, grew up in the town, which is nicknamed Bull Island, and graduated from high school here. At football games, they chanted: “Bull Island born. Bull Island bred. And when I die, I’ll be Bull Island dead.”
According to the census, 13 more people have died than have been born in Poquoson in the past decade. In neighboring Hampton, a built-up community whose northern neighborhoods also vote in the shrinking District 91, the story is one of migration — 17,500 have moved away since 2000.
Both are common realities in the parts of Virginia that are shrinking, including swaths of southern and western Virginia: People are aging, and they’re moving away.