OPINION | EDITORIAL: Southward ho!

C’mon down

The population of the United States is shifting south, the U.S. Census Bureau says, as if the convoys of moving vans out of cities west and north hadn't already made that fact plainly obvious.

Now a couple of years removed from the last major census, the Bureau reports that the nation's mean center may officially put down roots in the South (capital S) by 2030.

The latest U.S. "center of population," established last year, is Hartville, Mo., a few miles east of Springfield in the Missouri Ozark foothills. And nobody considers that really the South. (The South starts at Pine Bluff, Ark., as Paul Greenberg used to say.)

Analysts don't want to attribute this trend to any one factor yet. But we all know what they don't seem to want to acknowledge: Expats from the coasts and northeastern urban corridors are drawn to warmer temperatures, lower taxes, and affordable costs of living of the South. In many cases, they're not so much drawn to the South as they are fleeing their former locales.

The AP says departures from western states ramped up in 2021 after domestic migration had represented a net gain for the West each year since 2010.

The pandemic likely played a role, but so did restrictive state laws and measures around covid precautions. And the craziness that goes down in Portland probably played a role in Oregon losing more than 17,000 residents to other states in 2021.

Most western expats moved from California. Funny how folks don't like the government telling them what kind of car to drive. But from '21 to '22, Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington state also lost population, while other western states that previously had experienced rapid growth saw smaller increases than usual.

The South's big four soaking up most of this domestic migration: Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.

Back in 1790, the first center of population for the country was determined to be Chestertown, Md., the AP reports. Since then, the center has moved steadily westward as the nation grew. And once the 20th century delivered that heavenly manna known as air conditioning, the South became more palatable, and U.S. growth trends took a southwesterly turn.

Analysts expect the center to head "due south" by 2030, which would represent the first time the U.S. population center didn't shift at least partly west, according to the bureau folks.

Google Maps reveals what lies due south of Hartville: mostly Ozark wilderness. But eventually, after only about 80 miles, it crosses the state line into Baxter County and Arkansas.

So, welcome to Arkansas, soon to be the center of all of us. And when that happens, we'll have to rethink where the South starts.

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