The U.S. Center of Population Keeps Shifting South and West

Since 1790, the Census Bureau has surveyed the U.S. population once a decade. Another part of the census that you probably aren't familiar with — the U.S. center of population.

According to the Census Bureau, the center of population is the point at which an imaginary, weightless, flat and rigid map of the U.S. would balance perfectly if every resident weighs the same. The point, or center, is the average location of where people live in the U.S.

Why is this calculated? This location helps surveyors and demographers see how the country's population moves over time.

Ready to find out this decade's population center?

Where is the population center of the United States?

As the nation grows, the center of population has shifted westward over the past 22 decades. The 2020 U.S. center of population is 15 miles from Hartville, MO — a town of about 600 people — and just 11.8 miles from the 2010 center. The center will be officially marked with a small monument at +37.415725 latitude, -092.346525 longitude, with the 2020 population number 331,449,281.

The last 2010 census found the center at a small town about 75 miles northeast of Springfield, MO. The initial center of population in 1790 was 23 miles east of Baltimore in Kent County, MD.

center of population shifts

Why is the center of population shifting?

Significant historical events have shifted the center of population over time. The population started traveling past the Mississippi River. As the U.S. expanded west due to the Gold Rush, the center of population quickly began shifting and it continued from there.

The California Rush

By the late 1800s, over half a million people had moved to California and the West Coast, with the center of population moving 100 miles in just a decade. Between 1860 to 1890, after the Civil War and land rush, the center of population had moved 189 miles.

A significant shift in numbers happened in the early 20th century. The census began including American Indians in the calculation. Before then, they considered tribal lands independent nations.

Baby boomers move to the suburbs

Following World War II, families began to move to the suburbs in California and other parts of the southwest, creating a baby boom. The center of population moved west even further with a growing farming population and companies seeking low labor costs.

The South and Sun Belt saw the most significant population growths of all the regions through 2000.

Migration to the Sun Belt

As of 2020, 62 percent of the country lives in the Sun Belt, which includes 15 states below the 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude line, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

While the national one-bedroom apartment average rent is currently $1,670 per month, you can find lower rent prices in these metro Sun Belt areas. In Birmingham, AL, a one-bedroom is currently $1,433 per month on average and in Memphis, TN, it's $1,031 per month on average.

A recent study from Rice University found that metro areas in the Sun Belt have been steadily growing and attracting younger demographics.

One of the main findings was that almost half of the U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2016 happened in these metro areas. Unfortunately, many of these cities are not prepared for this rapid growth, bringing up issues within affordable housing, urban design and local policy, per the study.

The rise of remote work

During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work became more prevalent across all industries. Many picked up their bags and moved away from major metro areas to small cities and towns, searching for more space and affordable housing. A 2021 WalletHub study found that trends toward smaller cities will continue due to affordability.

If the remote work trends continue to increase in the next decade, the census may show a significant shift in the center of population due to people searching for affordable housing without being tied down by their jobs.

The center of America keeps shifting

Despite a profound influence by the coronavirus pandemic at its end, the center of the population only shifted 11.8 miles this decade.

With more lifestyle changes and moving coming for the growing 331.4 million in the U.S., the center is bound to change again in the next decade.

Muriel VegaMuriel Vega is an Atlanta-based journalist and editor who writes mostly about technology and its intersection with food and culture. She’s the managing editor of tech news publication Hypepotamus, and has contributed to The Guardian, Atlanta magazine, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, VICE and more. She spends her time eating her way through Buford Highway and exploring Atlanta's arts scene.

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