DENVER (AP) - Colorado's Front Range will keep accruing political power as fast-growing towns along Interstate 25 far outstrip their rural eastern and western neighbors, new U.S. Census data shows.
The 2010 figures, released Wednesday, show that most of Colorado's growth over the last decade occurred along the Front Range. El Paso County surpassed Denver County as Colorado's most populous, while the state's eastern fringes continued to decline.
The data will be used to redraw congressional and legislative districts. Colorado didn't grow enough to earn an eighth seat in Congress, but population trends mean lawmakers will have to shift political power away from rural areas.
Colorado's most rural congressional district - the 3rd District to the west - will get even larger to include enough people to comprise a district. Districts around Denver and Colorado Springs will shrink to account for growing numbers.
The biggest winner is the 6th Congressional District around Colorado Springs. The solidly Republican district now held by Rep. Doug Lamborn needs to shed some 80,000 residents because it's growing so quickly compared to other areas.
"Our challenge at this point is to work in a bipartisan fashion to draw a fair, bipartisan congressional map," said state Rep. David Balmer, a Centennial Republican who will help redraw the district lines.
The other story in the 2010 Census numbers is the potential political strength of Latinos.
As in other states, Colorado's young Hispanic population continued to grow faster than whites, and Hispanics of any race now account for one-fifth of the state's population of just over 5 million. In 2000, there were about 736,000 Hispanics, comprising about 17 percent of the state's population.
Colorado has grown by 16.9 percent since 2000, compared to U.S. growth of 9.7 percent. The state's white population grew by 9.9 percent and stands at about 3.5 million, or 70 percent of the state's total. But the population of Hispanics of any races increased by 41.2 percent since 2000.
People who did not identify themselves as white on Census forms increased in all categories, including blacks, Asians, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The explosion of minority populations is no surprise because they tend to be younger than whites, said state demographer Elizabeth Garner.
Census figures show El Paso County grew by more than 105,000 people between 2000 and 2010 and now has more than 622,000 residents. Fort Carson's military population of 27,000 is double what it was in 2003.
The city and county of Denver grew by more than 45,500 and its population stands at just over 600,000.
But five counties along Colorado's eastern border with Kansas - Sedgwick, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Prowers and Baca - each lost 10 percent or more of their populations during the 2000s.
Another pocket of decline showed up along the state's southern edge in the San Juan mountains. Huerfano and Mineral counties both dropped by more than 10 percent, with Costilla, Conejos and Rio Grande counties dropping between 0.1 and 10 percent each.
In all, 17 of Colorado's 64 counties counties had a population decline, and most of them were in rural areas in the southeastern part of the state.
In Prowers County, 49-year-old Sandy Spitz works in Lamar's Pit Stop Sub Shop. The closure of the Neoplan bus factory in 2004 dealt a brutal blow to Lamar's economy. The factory moved to Denver, where Spitz says young folks go to find jobs.
"There are no jobs down here. It's declining. Everybody - I mean everybody - is moving to Denver. I'd move to Denver if I could," said Spitz, who has lived in Prowers for 30 years.
Denver is still the largest city in the state at 600,158, followed by Colorado Springs with 416,427. Aurora stayed third at 325,078. Fort Collins grew by 21.4 percent to reach nearly 144,000 residents.
The population of Lakewood, one of the Colorado's biggest cities, shrank by 0.8 percent. Garner said that underscores the city's aging population, where the children of young families who moved there years ago are now gone.
"You have the same house, people are there, but now instead of being a family of four it's a family of two," she said.
Besides redistricting, the Census data also will be used to allocate federal funds for roads and schools.