US ‘Heartland’ Near Historic Shift from Midwest

Hope Yen, Comcast News, March 8, 2011

America’s population center is edging away from the Midwest, pulled by Hispanic growth in the Southwest, according to census figures. The historic shift is changing the nation’s politics and even the traditional notion of the country’s heartland–long the symbol of mainstream American beliefs and culture.

The West is now home to the four fastest-growing states–Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Idaho–and has surpassed the Midwest in population, according to 2010 figures. California and Texas added to the southwestern population tilt, making up more than one-fourth of the nation’s total gains since 2000.

When the Census Bureau announces a new mean center of population next month, geographers believe it will be placed in or around Texas County, Mo., southwest of the present location in Phelps County, Mo. That would put the center at the outer edge of the Midwest, on a path to leave the region by midcentury.

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The Census Bureau calculates the mean U.S. 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.

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The fastest U.S. growth is occurring in the Mountain West, which includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. As California’s growth slows, many of the Mountain state arrivals are Hispanic immigrants seeking jobs and affordable family living. Hispanics tend to lean Democratic when voting.

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-In seven of the eight Mountain states, Hispanics accounted for nearly 50 percent or more of the population gains among children under 18. Montana, which had a population loss of children, was the exception.

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-California, which failed to add a House seat for the first time in its history, would have lost population if it weren’t for growth among Hispanics and other minorities, estimates show. The state, the nation’s largest with 37.3 million, continues to grow primarily from immigration and births.

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State officials are tentatively planning for a commemorative marker in Texas County or its vicinity. Texas County boasts 26,000 residents, with whites making up 92 percent of the population, compared with roughly 65 percent for the country. Blacks make up 3.3 percent and Hispanics 1.6 percent.

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