Well, the good news, with Rhode Island’s looming loss of a Congressional seat, is that we can’t go any lower than the minimum:
Rhode Island last had a single seat in the House in the original Congress in 1789, when the number of seats was set directly by the U.S. Constitution. Since then, under a mandate in the Constitution, the number of House seats has been determined under a complex formula approved by Congress and based on state populations. Since the 1790 census, Rhode Island has always had two seats in the House, except for two decades in the early 20th century, when a booming immigrant population earned the state three seats.
The complex formula ranks potential House seats for each state. The top 385 are awarded seats in the House. That’s in addition to the minimum of one seat that every state is guaranteed by the Constitution.
I’ll admit that my thinking has changed a little on this over the years, at least to the extent of acknowledging some complications. Yes, Rhode Island is set to lose a Congressional seat after the next census because our local society doesn’t offer the opportunity that it should for families to grow.
Our failures have mainly been an accelerant, however. In the long run, we simply don’t have the space to keep up with other states’ expanding populations. My changing perspective is the understanding that it isn’t irrational for Rhode Islanders to resist a NYC-tri-state-area level of population density.
Still, losing a Congressional seat because your successful state doesn’t have room to fit more people looks very different than our current case of losing it because the state isn’t successful. We’d all be much wealthier in the former case and have disproportionate national influence for that reason.
Featured image: U.S. Census map of population change in 2018.