Economy 4.0

In Search of Middle America

Stan Alcorn Dec 15, 2010

America is about to get a new middle. Statistically speaking, that is.

Among the many wonders of the 2010 Census are calculations of the “mean center of population” for the United States. It’s an abstraction that treats populations as weights and asks where the country would balance. The picture above shows how that middle has moved since 1790.

There’s also a “median center of population,” which, unlike the mean, doesn’t care if someone is in Arizona or California; It only cares that they’re to the west. (Statistically minded readers can parse this difference at greater length by reading this Census PDF). If you check out this nifty animation, you can see how the median has moved since 1880. Unlike the mean, it does a little loop in the decades leading up to World War II (Great Migration? Dust Bowl?), but it follows the mean in its postwar southwestern trend, which, despite the housing bust, looks likely to continue.

Of course, being in the middle doesn’t necessarily mean being “average.” Economy 4.0 special correspondent David Brancaccio visited the then-current “mean center” of Cuba, Missouri in 2000, and he just got back from a second trip. He talks to Marketplace’s Jeremy Hobson about what’s average, what’s exceptional, and what’s changed in the last decade in the city of Cuba.

Listen to David Brancaccio’s interview on middle America with Marketplace Morning Report’s Jeremy Hobson:



Listen to David’s original Marketplace story about Cuba High School from 2000:


We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.