The Texas Surge: Is America Headed South?

Population Headed SouthIt's hard to pick the geekiest group in the federal government, but the Census Bureau is a good bet: Every 10 years, the little agency tucked inside the Department of Commerce gathers a seemingly endless quantity of data about the American populace, which it then cross-references into a mind-boggling group of tables that link race, gender, location and a mass of other information. Using the census, one can find the most populous place in the country (Los Angeles) and the fastest growing (Kendall, Ill.), the youngest state (Utah) and the oldest (Maine). For those looking to expand their dating pool, it can, quite literally, tell you where the boys are (Alaska) and the best place to find all the single ladies (Washington, D.C.).

One of the most interesting pieces of data is also one of the wonkiest: The nation's center of population. Essentially, this is the average location of all Americans, the spot where a population map of the United States would perfectly balance. With every census, the center moves a few miles west, pushed along by territorial expansion, economic rumblings and mass migrations. In a single, slightly meandering line, the ever-shifting population center manages to encapsulate over 200 years of American history, while giving a shadowy glimpse into the country's future.

To make it even clearer, the fine folks at the Census Bureau have tabulated 220 years of population center data into a single, interactive infographic:

History Writ Large

Often, American history is presented as a disconnected series of episodes -- Westward Expansion! The Civil War! The Great Depression! -- that are custom-made for social studies classes, but not all that useful for constructing a larger narrative. But the slow movement of the population center tells a different story, showing the steady progress of the country as America has expanded ever westward and -- for the last 90 years -- southward.

This isn't to say that there haven't been dramatic moments: Between 1850 and 1860, California statehood and the gold rush propelled the population center 80 miles to the West, its largest jump ever. A decade later, postwar industrialization in New York, Chicago and other northern cities led to the biggest northward shift ever. But for the most part, the movement has been slow and steady. From 1910 to 1920, in fact, it almost stood still, barely moving 10 miles as massive immigration into New York balanced out the call of the West.

And what about now? Over the last 10 years, with jobs fleeing from the pro-labor, union-friendly North to the right-to-work South, the population center has had its sharpest southward movement in history. While booming housing markets in Nevada, Arizona and Utah have drawn millions of new residents, the biggest shift has been in Texas, where a combination of cheap labor and tax incentives have pulled in more than 4 million new residents.

The Texas surge, in fact, may be the biggest trend revealed by the population center's latest move. Culturally, America has tended to focus on its coasts, but California's budget woes and deflating real estate bubble seem to be putting some tarnish on the Golden State. Meanwhile, with industrial disinvestment and high land values holding back expansion in the Northeast, it seems unlikely that New York's anemic 2.1% population growth will provide a counterbalance to the emerging South. The big question is: With money, the economy and the population heading South, will America's cultural center of gravity follow?

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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Joseph C

The Census Bureau doesn't just collect data once every 10 years. Even though the decennial census is the most high profile, the bureau conducts nearly 200 surveys year-round. An example is the American Community Survey that collects demographic socio-economic information from 3 million households a year. It also conducts an economic census every five years, documenting every business in the country large and small.

October 14 2011 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I moved from California to Texas about 10 years ago. I live in downtown Dallas, and it is booming here! Lots of new buildings, especially high-rise apartments and condos. My understanding is that Dallas has one of the best job markets in the nation.

Once a year or so I travel to California to see friends. It's just not very nice anymore. It's just so crowded and so amazingly expensive and in general, dirty. I think if you live on the beach in Malibu in your own 10-acre compound, then it would be nice, but otherwise, it's just a mess.

I'll take Texas any day over most other places in the USA!

July 14 2011 at 5:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Why don't you all move to friggin Texas, where environmental regulations and other laws protecting the people are
the weakest, along with education, but where the number of uninsured children are the highest (as, apparently, is
the number of idiots).
Since most of you are not billionaires, but you keep shooting yourself in the foot by voting Republican, you keep
proving that you should NOT be allowed to make your own decisions.
Do I believe the Dems in California know better? Not necessarily, but this is an argument I would not raise.

July 09 2011 at 10:08 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to blueheron's comment
Derrick Family

Yes,'d be better off NOT to bring ANYTHING California has done into the discussion since you are grossly misinformed. Folks move where there is opportunity....PERIOD! Democrats continue to prove to the MAJORITY (a sect which you obviously don't belong) that big government and high taxes do NOT create OPPORTUNITY; rather create oppression and corruption (any surprise we are exactly there). Need I point out examples....???? OBAMACARE....1200 pages filled with secret tax increases, life/death decisions by government, and Democrats promoted (and shoved it down our throats) the legislation as simply that we must "pass" it in order to see what's in it !!!! Is how you want government to represent you? If so, then it's not we Republicans that shouldn't be allowed to make our own decisions......

July 18 2011 at 2:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I lived in Texas for over 20 years. I came there from Southern California. Sold out moved to Texas and bought 3 houses with what I made off mine when I sold it in California.

Texas takes some getting use to # 1 Texans LOVE Texas, and they mean "don't mess with Texas". High School football games are broadcasted on the radio and some on TV, they love their HS football too. Dallas is very modern and a world class city as is Austin. Texas will execute you without any reservations.

I was a rancher/Cowboy for 10 years and I loved Texas, very diversified and cultural variations...but they all share a deep pride in their state, which I admired.

I sold out and moved to rural Arkansas on a lake to retire. Cost of living is CHEAP, houses are CHEAP and so are taxes....few good jobs and the pay sucks for most businesses. Arkansas lazy is the word to describe rural Arkansans. They close up their businesses to go to lunch, their only opened 1/2 day on Saturday, and some close during Deer Season. Arkansas is not a state with high work ethic or IQ....but its beautiful its unpopulated 2.8 million in the whole state. Rural people are mostly umb as posts, the inbred stories are true, and their main goal seems to be to get the SSI crazy check and retire at 18.

Texas is just a really nice place... stay away from the small towns as you'll never be one of them, and they have their own system of Justice, unlike major cities they just make up the law as they go, for who they know. Dallas is beautiful and if your a hard worker you can make a LOT OF MONEY in Texas in Construction, and remodeling.

July 08 2011 at 1:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

And I promise you this - those of us in Texas who've lived here all of our lives resent this super-influx of carpetbaggers.
It's not about jobs... it's not about being crowded... it's about attitude.

This place used to be heaven on earth. People were friendly. Drivers were friendly and courteous. And there was a clear-cut definition of right and wrong. If you tried to rob someone? You get shot. If you tried to rape someone? Jail and a trip to death row. Guns were part of life and nobody got hurt. Hard work gets you everything you ever needed and welfare is for white trash.
Now - every Californian, New Yorker and Floridian wants to move here and bring their caustic, liberal-bent attitudes here. No longer are people friendly. No longer can a man carry a gun without being called crazy. No longer can a person worship God without being called moronic. Going to work is no longer a lazy drive... instead, you get on the highway at your own risk. Children are taught to be respectful of everyone except those who carry the morals and ideals of their parents and grandparents of this state. Instead, Texans (who by the way used to be call hillbillies, rednecks, cowpokes, cowpunchers, etc from others across the country) has gone crazy over money, expenditures, more highways and liberal thinking. And while we're at it ... let's adopt a state tax like all the other states losing their people to TExas.
We're sick of it.
If you're planning on moving here - adopt OUR ideals and leave yours at home. Maybe... just maybe... this state can become what it used to be again. I seriously doubt it - but just maybe.

July 08 2011 at 12:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to burnsengine's comment

Oh... and I forgot - before this "uber-exodus" to Texas... we had a budget surplus for decades.
For some reason... we are now in a deficit.
Blame Perry if you want... I blame people ******* the system dry.

July 08 2011 at 1:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with you 100%. I am from California and I hate the way our State leadership is taking this once great state. We are all not liberals here, unfortunately all the weirdos in San Fran and other big cities outnumber us rural conservative folks. I have family in Texas and I love to visit. If I ever move to Texas I am pretty sure I would fit right in.

July 08 2011 at 3:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Perry will declare. Texas will be his hatrack.

July 08 2011 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jeff hale

The right to work laws suck. The unions are not the problem. Greed is the problem. What is wrong with a FAIR return on investment. This CEO driven agenda must be stopped at all costs. Impose stiff tarrifs on ALL foreign goods and penalize any company who offshores jobs.

July 08 2011 at 12:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jeff hale's comment

I hate unions Jeff. I've worked in several place whereby unions were dominant... but I never joined them.

However, that said, you're absolutely right. Greed has gotten out of control. It will only get worse, I'm afraid.
I would much rather see unions .... than right-to-work when 80% of a company's income goes to the top while the other 20% goes to the workers and out of country.

July 08 2011 at 1:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Davy Crockett said it best... “You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas”

July 07 2011 at 11:28 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Davy Crockett said it best.... “You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas”

July 07 2011 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd like to know what makes libs so damn cranky all the time??Always looking for the chance to jab anyone with another comment.Some of Us out here in the "Golden State" are so tired of Their over regulating,in My business
politics,I wish Our Family could move to Texas.But,due to the wonderful property devaluation,it'll be a long time until We can get out without losing Ours shirts!!Get off the class warfare,elists attitudes that "you know how I should live My
life better than I do.

July 07 2011 at 11:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to boxermom55's comment

Texas didn't have the real estate boom but now we are not realizing the bust condition of the states the experienced the boom. Greed fueled the boom and caused the bust.

July 08 2011 at 9:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply