- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2011

The new center of the U.S. population is in Missouri, about 2.7 miles northeast of the village of Plato, according to U.S. Census Bureau findings from the 2010 count that were released Thursday and also showed that Hispanics accounted for more than half of the nation’s population increase over the past decade.

The census findings confirmed 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 exceeded estimates in most states as they crossed a new census milestone: 50 million, or almost 1 in 6 Americans.

The U.S. 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 final count: 196.8 million whites, 37.7 million blacks, 50.5 million Hispanics and 14.5 million Asians.

Hispanics and Asians were the two fastest-growing demographic groups, increasing about 42 percent from 2000. Hispanics, now number 1 in 6 Americans; among U.S. children, roughly 1 in 4 are Hispanic.

At least 9 million Americans checked more than one race category on their 2010 census form, up 32 percent from 2000, a sign of burgeoning multiracial growth in an increasingly minority nation.

Based on the 2010 census results released by state so far, multiracial Americans were on track to increase by more than 25 percent, to roughly 8.7 million.

“This really is a transformational decade for the nation,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who has analyzed most of the 2010 data. “The 2010 census shows vividly how these new minorities are both leading growth in the nation’s most dynamic regions and stemming decline in others.”

For the first time, Asians had a larger numeric gain than blacks, who remained the second-largest minority group at roughly 37 million.

The number of non-Hispanic whites, whose median age is now 41, edged up slightly to 197 million. Declining birth rates meant their share of the total U.S. population dropped over the past decade from 69 percent to about 64 percent.

The U.S. Census Bureau calculates the mean U.S. population center every 10 years based on its national head count. The center represents the middle point of the nation’s population distribution — 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. Its later move to the Midwest bolstered the region as the nation’s heartland in the 20th century, central to farming and manufacturing.

But Plato, Mo., doesn’t reflect the population changes that have brought it special attention. The town and its surroundings have few blacks and even fewer Hispanics, though there are more minorities in three or four larger cities about 20 to 30 miles away. That doesn’t mean locals aren’t downright thrilled with the recognition and a chance to be noticed.

“It is putting a spotlight on a corner of the world that doesn’t get much attention,” said Brad Gentry, 48, publisher of the weekly Houston Herald newspaper 30 miles up the road. “Most residents are proud of our region and like the idea that others will learn our story through this recognition.”

The census also found that blacks in search of wider spaces increasingly left big cities such as Detroit, Chicago and New York for the suburbs, typically in the South. Both Michigan and Illinois had their first declines in the black population since statehood, as many of their residents opted for warmer climes in the suburbs of places such as Atlanta, Dallas and Houston.

The smaller numbers were a surprise to some city officials, including New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who questioned the census count of 8.2 million for his city and suggested immigrants may have been missed.

Census Director Robert M. Groves said the agency had not yet received any formal complaints about the census count and that overall indicators showed high accuracy in 2010 compared with 2000.

After initial fears of low participation, the 2010 count of the Hispanic population came in 900,000 higher than expected, matching or surpassing census estimates in 37 states, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

Many of the biggest jumps were in the South, including Alabama, North Carolina and Louisiana, where a small but fast-growing Hispanic population was fueled by an influx of immigrants during the housing boom.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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