More Americans are once again calling the Midwest their home, but Sunbelt states like California and Florida remain the favored places to settle down, government figures show.

The Census Bureau on Thursday released its 1988 population estimates, showing that the West and parts of the South continued strong population growth, while smaller growth rates were reflected in the Northeast.The Midwest appeared to be rebounding after a dropoff in population during the early part of the decade.

The total U.S. population stood at 245.8 million as of July 1, the date of the 1988 Census statistics, reflecting a 3 percent increase in population from July 1, 1985.

Over the three-year period, the biggest growth rate and population loss were seen in small population states: Nevada was up 12.8 percent, topping the 1 million mark for the first time; and the energy-producing state of Wyoming had a 7.6 percent decline, a loss of 39,000 people, leaving its population at 471,000.

The 12 Midwestern states - where the depressed farm economy caused a population downturn between 1981 and 1983 - had an overall 1.2 percent population increase in the 1985-88 period, the Census estimates showed.

Some Midwestern states continued to lose residents, but the Midwest as a region picked up slightly.

Losses were estimated in 1985-1988 for Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho, the Census Bureau said.

The largest state, California, had the greatest increase in population, 1.8 million people, or 6.9 percent, boosting its total to 28.2 million.

Other states that showed strong growth rates over the three years included: Arizona, 9.6 percent, bringing its total to 3.5 million people; New Hampshire, 9.9 percent, to 1.1 million residents; Florida, 8.9 percent, to 12.4 million people.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia lost population during the three years: Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska.