March 24, 2011 | ABC News | Original Article

Census Data Shows a Changed American Landscape; New Population Center Is Plato, Mo.

The American landscape shifted dramatically during the past 10 years and the population center of the country moved about 40 miles west from Edgar Springs, Mo., in 2000, to Plato, Mo., population 109.

The Census Bureau announced the mean center of population as 2.7 miles northeast of Plato -- an hour's drive south and west of the population center 10 years go.

In 2000, the population center of the country rested in Phelps County, Mo., and in 1790, the year Washington, D.C. was named the nation's capital, the mean center of population sat in Kent County, Md. The mean center represents the middle of the nation's population distribution.

Over the past decade, the country's population bent further west and became more Hispanic, multi-racial and mobile, with people moving toward the Sun Belt and away from cities to suburbs.

The final local data from the 2010 Census released today reveals a significant change in the racial composition of the country.

"The minority population is going to make up an even larger share of the nation's growth than it did in the 1990s," said William Frey, a demographer at The Brookings Institution. "People are going to appreciate more why the minority growth is important in the U.S."

The expansion in the Hispanic or Latino population crossed the 50 million mark for the first time in 2010, making people of Hispanic origin the second largest group in the country. The total Hispanic population in 2010 was 50,477,594 or 16.3 percent of the total population, a 43 percent increase from a decade ago.

In Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland and six other states, the Hispanic population more than doubled, and in the booming Southwest, Hispanics accounted for the greatest spike in growth. In the state of New Mexico, the Hispanic population eclipsed the white population for the first time, rising to make up more than 46 percent of the state's population compared with the 40 percent for whites. Hispanic populations in California and Texas inched closer to becoming their states' majorities.

Some states would have lost a significant amount of their population without the boost in minority growth. Massachusetts grew by just a bit more than 198,000 people while its white population fell by 194,000. The 46 percent growth in both the Hispanic and Asian populations boosted its overall population and prevented the state from experiencing a negative growth rate.

A large portion of the minority growth is attributed to the rise of Hispanics in the youth population. In Nevada, 61 percent of children are minorities compared with 41 percent of adults.

"As a nation, our youth is looking a lot different than the middle age population," Frey said. "The younger part of the population is becoming more diverse than the older part."

In addition to the general uptick in minorities across the country, the locations where many Americans choose to live changed, specifically within the black population as more people identifying themselves as black or African American headed south.

"The black population is moving to the South in bigger numbers than it did in earlier decades," Frey said. "The South has become a much more prosperous and open place for African Americans."

Overall, the Sun Belt experienced some of the greatest population growth in the country. Nevada outpaced the country, expanding by more than 35 percent while Arizona, Utah and Texas followed with growth more than 20 percent.

Along with the shift of population to the South has come a shift from cities to suburbs. The suburbs of southern cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Houston saw record gains in overall populations. More than half of the cities with large black populations experienced declines in their populations because of an exodus to the suburbs.

As some cities recorded a loss in population to the suburbs, many cities experienced a racial rebalancing with steadily growing numbers of Hispanics and shifting numbers of whites and blacks. In data set to be released today, demographers expect Washington, D.C. and New York City to increase in the number of whites in their cities for the first time since the 1950s.

While many large cities transformed in their racial makeup and size, two stood out with dramatic losses in population. Due in large part to damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans' population shrunk by 30 percent over the course of 10 years. In Michigan, Detroit shed nearly 65 people a day for a decade, causing its population to plummet 25 percent because of economic strife and a shift to the suburbs.

And then there were the oddballs from the 2010 Census. Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, experienced the largest growth in the state, expanding its population size by 43 percent while Maricopa, Arizona, the new hometown of her daughter Bristol and grandson Tripp, increased by a whopping 4,000 percent.

The trends of this changing American landscape will come into play during redistricting decisions state legislatures will make in the coming months. Analysts expect new congressional districts to reflect the overall trends revealed by the local Census data, beginning with the rise in Hispanic population.

"There's little doubt that the growth in the Latino population is going to eventually result in a more Hispanic representation in legislatures and Congress, as well," said Tim Storey, a redistricting analyst with the National Council of State Legislatures. "But it's going to take time. The maps are being drawn now."

Storey argued shifts from cities to suburbs and slow growth in rural areas will also spur new redistricting patterns.

"From a national perspective, there will be fewer rural legislators, period, because those areas of the country continue to not grow or lose population," Story said. "There will be a shift of political power to suburban areas, period."

Ten states -- Ohio, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania -- lost a total of 12 congressional seats to eight states -- Texas, Florida, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington -- in the reapportionment process.

And with GOP gains from the 2010 election, redistricting might favor Republicans in this Census cycle.

"Republicans are in their best position politically for redistricting than they've ever been in, period," Storey said. "Republicans are positioned very well to not be on the short end of the redistricting process."