PLATO, Mo. – In a nation of nearly 310 million people, America’s new population center rests not in a Midwestern skyline of St. Louis or Chicago, but in a tiny Missouri village named after an ancient Greek philosopher.
The Census Bureau announced Thursday what the 109 residents of Plato had suspected for weeks: Shifting population patterns and geographical chance converged to make this town on the edge of Mark Twain National Forest the center of the U.S. population distribution based on 2010 census data.
The announcement also signifies larger trends – America’s population is marching westward from the Midwest, pulled by migration to the Sun Belt. And in a surprising show of growth, Hispanics now account for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade.
That doesn’t mean locals aren’t downright thrilled with the recognition and a chance to be noticed.
The Census Bureau’s first set of national-level findings from 2010 on race and migration show a decade in which rapid minority growth, aging whites and the housing boom and bust were the predominant themes.
The Census Bureau calculates the mean U.S. population center every 10 years based on its national head count. The center represents the geographic point at which the country would balance if each of its 308.7 million residents weighed the same.
Based on current U.S. growth, which is occurring mostly in the South and West, the population center is expected to cross into Arkansas or Oklahoma by the middle of this century. The last time the U.S. center fell outside the Midwest was 1850, in the eastern territory now known as West Virginia.
Rumblings of Plato’s newfound fame were confirmed Tuesday when census officials came to plot the precise midpoint, located in a pasture in an area dominated by beef and dairy farms.
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