PORTLAND – Maine’s population grew by a modest 4.2 percent over the past decade, more than in the previous 10 years but less than half the rate of the nation as a whole, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 2010 census shows Maine’s population at 1,328,361, up 53,438 from 1,274,923 a decade ago, when the growth rate was 3.8 percent. Maine is the 41st most populous state, down one notch since the 2000 census.

Nationally, the population grew 9.7 percent, to 308,745,538 on April 1 — the slowest decade rate since the Great Depression. The fastest-growing state was Nevada, at 35.1 percent. Michigan, which lost 0.6 percent of its population, was the only state to show a decline.

The national and state population numbers, along with congressional apportionment data, are the first figures to be released from the census done earlier this year. More detailed data will be released in February and March, providing closer views at the county, city and more local levels.

Maine held onto its two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ten states lost seats, and eight gained. Each state’s House seats are determined by population.

In Maine, the work of determining the boundary between the 1st and 2nd congressional districts — based on the distribution of the state’s population — will not begin until 2013. The Legislature will appoint a panel to carry out that task.

Maine came close to losing a House seat, said Peter Francese, a demographer with the New England Economic Partnership. Assignments of the 435 seats can depend on margins as thin as 10,000 to 15,000 people, he said.

“Natural increase” — larger numbers of births than deaths — drives much of the growth in most states, Francese said. Births and deaths are almost equal in Maine, which needs its growth to accelerate in order to keep its two House seats in 2020, he said.

“It depends on how the individual communities in Maine feel about population growth, because in New England there are substantial anti-growth sentiments,” he said.

The Northeast had the slowest regional growth rate, 3.2 percent. Next slowest was the Midwest, at 3.9 percent. The South was the fastest-growing, at 14.3 percent, followed by the West, at 13.8 percent.

Those trends mean that Republican-leaning states will pick up a half-dozen House seats. Texas will add four seats, and Florida will gain two. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington each will gain one.

Ohio and New York will lose two House seats each. Losing one House seat are Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In New England, Rhode Island had the slowest growth rate, at 0.4 percent, and New Hampshire had the fastest, 6.5 percent. Vermont grew by 2.8 percent, Massachusetts grew by 3.1 percent and Connecticut grew by 4.9 percent.

Maine’s population increase caught the eye of Thomas Merrill, an economist with the State Planning Office. He noted that earlier population estimates by the Census Bureau had forecast a decline in Maine’s population — the first since at least 1910.

Maine was one of only three states — the others were Michigan and Rhode Island — that were expected to see population declines before the 2010 census count was released. In 2009, the projection for Maine was 1,318,000, down from the 2008 projection of 1,319,000.

Census data to be released next year will include information about age groups in Maine, which will provide a better sense of how Maine will fare in congressional apportionment in 2020, Merrill said.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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