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Economy 4.0

Where is "middle America"?

Marketplace Staff Dec 16, 2010
Economy 4.0

Where is "middle America"?

Marketplace Staff Dec 16, 2010


Jeremy Hobson: What’s the most typical town in America? Well ten years ago, Marketplace’s David Brancaccio used Census data to find out. It was a place called Cuba. Cuba, Missouri. Well David went back there to check in. And he’s here with me in the studio in New York now.

Good morning David.

David Brancaccio: Good morning.

Hobson: Why Cuba, Mo.?

Brancaccio: Well 10 years ago, the town was the statistical center of the U.S. population. And then some fresh data came in from the U.S. Census bureau. It moved the center of population a little south and a little west. Here is Ray Mortimeyer, who’s a postal delivery man and the current mayor of Cuba.

Ray Mortimeyer: I think it’s kind of middle America. I really do. I think we’d make a pretty good model because I think we are representative, yes.

Hobson: So that’s what he thinks. What did you find there?

Brancaccio: Well the town looks, I guess, spiffier. It’s on old historic Route 66, they’ve put up some murals as tourist attractions. But one economic planner told me that they didn’t have irrational exuberance during the good times, so not as far to fall these days.

Hobson: Now any place, David, that is claiming to be a typical American town right now would have to have pretty high unemployment, I would think.

Brancaccio: Well this is what the mayor told me about the effect of the recession.

Mortimeyer: No, we feel it, there’s no doubt about it. We have to tighten our belt because we just can’t be as lucrative as we were 10 years ago.

Brancaccio: They’re not. The unemployment now: 10.3 percent. It is double what it was a decade ago, a little higher than the national average total.

Hobson: A little higher than the national average, but still pretty typical, I would say. Is it typical in other ways?

Brancaccio: Well, 26 minute commute time to work, that is same as the national average. Unfortunately, more children living below the poverty line. Houses are cheap, like $70,000 is a typical house price; $119,000 nationally by the way. It’s very white, 98 Caucasian.

Hobson: What are the other competitors for most representative place in the country?

Brancaccio: If you use a measure of well-being that factors in health, education and income, Cuba’s Congressional district is worse than average. But right in the middle for well-being, so therefore typical, might be Florida’s 15th Congressional district, that includes Cape Canaveral, which is — I don’t know, it’s not a typical location — but in terms of well-being, apparently that area fits the bill.

Hobson: Nice to have all those space ships launching from there. Anyway, Marketplace’s David Brancaccio. He’ll be doing more reporting from Cuba, Mo. You can get details on our Economy 4.0 blog. David, thanks.

Brancaccio: My pleasure.

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