Tiny Plato, Mo., is new population center of US


Associated Press

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 past decade.

Such designations aren’t new to Missouri. The 2000 population center was Edgar Springs, about 30 miles to the northeast. Thirty more miles to the northeast is Steelville, the 1990 population center.

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 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 comprise 1 in 6 Americans; among U.S. children, Hispanics are roughly 1 in 4.

More than 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.

“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 African-Americans, who remained the second-largest minority group at roughly 37 million.

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