Academic journal article International Journal of Population Research

Metropolitan USA: Evidence from the 2010 Census

Academic journal article International Journal of Population Research

Metropolitan USA: Evidence from the 2010 Census

Article excerpt

John Rennie Short 1

Recommended by Shirlena Huang

1, Department of Public Policy, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250, USA

Received 27 November 2011; Accepted 14 March 2012

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. The Broad Picture

The mean center of the US mainland population is plotted for each Census decade since 1790. The point marks the central fulcrum of the national population. In 1790 the mean center was located in Maryland and over the years has steadily moved westward in line with the westward shift of population. Between 1970 and 1980, the mean center crossed the Mississippi River, and by 2000 it was located in Phelps County Missouri. By 2010, it shifted further westwards and southward to Texas County in Missouri. The slow, steady shift of the mean center marks the redistribution of the US population to the expanding metro areas of the South and West. Its slow progress, however, reminds us of the continuing population weight of the Northeast.

The mean population center now passes through the interior of the country, the so-called heartland. Yet it is a heart with an anemic demographic beat. The population of six counties in this region--Fayette, Marion, Randolph, and Shelby in Illinois and Montgomery and Dent in Missouri--was 144,880 in 1950, rising to only 145,309 in 2010. In much of the rural interior of the US, the story is one of continuing relative population decline as the people move to the city regions. The county that hosted the mean center of population in 2010--Texas County, Missouri--saw only slight population increase from 18,992 in 1950 to 26,008 in 2010. The percentage of persons in the county living below the poverty rate was 24.4 percent in 2010--almost double the national average--and the median household income was only three-fifths of the national average. The rural heartland is losing population and experiencing economic stress.

2. Continuing Metropolitanization

The drift of population to large cities continues. The US census employs the term metropolitan statistical area (MSA) to refer to urban areas with a core area of at least 50,000 and economic links to surrounding counties. Using this statistical, rather than political division of municipal boundaries, it is possible to measure the metropolitanization of the US population. In 1950 the metropolitan population was just over a half at 56.1 percent of the total US population. By 2010 the figure was 83.6. The US population is increasingly and overwhelmingly concentrated in metropolitan areas. More than 90 percent of the country's entire population growth in the last decade occurred within MSAs.

A further 10 percent of the US population lives in micropolitan statistical areas, which contain an urban core of at least 10,000 and, in total, have less than 50,000 population. Only 6.3 percent (versus 6.8 percent in 2000) live outside these two types of urban areas. The US continues to become a more urban and metropolitan society.

When we break down the metropolitan areas by size, there are differential growth rates. Table 1 shows the population for different sized MSAs from 1980 to 2010. The greatest growth was concentrated in the smaller sized metro areas. The steady growth of the largest, that is, greater than 5 million population, MSAs, from 1980 to 2000, is now eclipsed by the increasing growth rate of the smaller sized MSAs. This is partly a function of reclassification as smaller urban areas become classified as MSAs but also perhaps indicative of a greater spread of economic activity and population down the hierarchy of MSAs.

Table 1: Percentage of US population in metropolitan areas (MSAs), 1980-2010.

Table 2 lists the twenty largest MSAs from 1950 to 2010. …

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