Missouri Town With 82 Residents to No Longer Be U.S. Population Center After 2020 Census

The U.S. Census Bureau will announce Tuesday where the new "heart" of the U.S. is located, with an expert predicting its location in the Missouri Ozarks.

Every 10 years, after the census, the organization announces a new center of population distribution. The population center has been in Missouri since 1980, and that's not likely to change this year, according to the Associated Press.

Alex Zakrewsky, the principal urban planner for Middlesex County, New Jersey, said the most likely location is somewhere in Missouri's Wright County.

Zakrewsky accurately predicted the current center a decade ago: Plato, Missouri, a village in the Ozarks with only 82 residents.

If his predictions are accurate again, the center will move only 12.8 miles southwest of Plato. This would be the slowest advancement of the nation's center out of every census, beating out the current slowest move from the 1910-1920 census, when the shift was 13 miles.

Compared to the 1850-1860 census, where the advancement was 103 miles, this shows a considerable slowdown.

"An aging population, ongoing economic difficulties, and the impact of the pandemic have worked to reduce the means and reason for Americans to move," Zakrewsky said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Plato, Missouri, small town
The U.S. Census Bureau is announcing where the new population center of the U.S. is located. Above, a car drives through Plato, Missouri, which has been designated the population center of the U.S., on March 24, 2011. Charlie Riedel, File/AP Photo

Since the first U.S. census was taken in 1790 and Chestertown, Maryland was declared the center of the young nation, the country's heart has been calculated after each census, shifting southwestward through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri as more people moved to Sun Belt states and immigrated from the southern border.

To calculate the center of the U.S., the Census Bureau figures out which spot would be "the balance point" if the 50 states were an imaginary, flat surface with weights of identical size placed on it so that each weight represented the location of one person.

Plato, located south of Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks, had a population of 82 people last year, about a quarter fewer residents than a decade ago when then-Census Bureau director Robert Groves paid the village a visit to help celebrate its status.

But don't expect to find T-shirts or coffee mugs celebrating that designation in any local stores, or any regrets as Plato loses this claim to fame. Most folks in Texas County, which is home to Plato, have no idea they're at the center of the U.S., said Scott Long, the presiding commissioner of Texas County, where beef cattle outnumber people.

"I don't think it has changed the day-to-day lives of the people of this county, but I don't want to say that in a way that means we don't care," Long said. "It's one of those things most people don't even know."

Plato, Missouri, small town
The new center of the U.S. is expected to be somewhere in the Missouri Ozarks. Above, Andy Justice walks to a pile of rocks on land he farms near Plato, Missouri, on March 24, 2011. Charlie Riedel, File/AP Photo