The Western U.S. grew 13.8 percent from 2000 to 71.9 million people, surpassing the Midwest as the second most populous region. The Midwest rose 3.9 percent and the Northeast gained 3.2 percent. The West's growth rate is nearly equal to the South's, which rose 14.3 percent to 114.6 million on the Sun Belt strength of Texas and Florida.
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, according to 2010 figures released Tuesday. Los Angeles posted a gain over the past decade of just under 100,000 people, its smallest numerical growth since 1890-1900, as many of its Hispanic residents moved elsewhere. The state, the nation's largest with 37.3 million, continues to grow primarily from immigration and births.
"Instead of serving as the migration magnet of the West, California has become the anchor for an expanding Western region," said William Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who reviewed the census numbers. "The old phrase, 'Go West, young man' has now turned to 'Eastward ho' for California's young residents, recent immigrants and retirees as they spill into neighboring states. It may never again gain another congressional seat."
Historically, the first center of population in 1790 resided in Kent County, Md., 23 miles east of Baltimore, the fulcrum between Pennsylvania and New York in the North and slave states in the South. It moved west through West Virginia amid the rise of steamboat travel and development of the nation's first railroads in the 1820s.
The U.S. center stayed put in Indiana from 1890-1940, largely stalled by a wave of European immigrants to the Northeast and then the Great Depression. It made big strides in Illinois in the 1950s as California boomed and Alaska and Hawaii gained statehood, before taking on a southwesterly path.
Missouri has been at the U.S. center since 1980.
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.
"I think it's appropriate that people in the county get some recognition," said Brad Gentry, 48, of Houston, Mo., who publishes the weekly paper in Texas County. "It's primarily agriculture, and we have a lot of retirees. Despite a high rate of poverty, people are resilient and make things work — even if they are pretty disillusioned by the political process that has bogged down Washington."
Census website: www.census.gov
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