What Is the Midwest?

We’ve had a handful of discussions here about what states constitute the Midwest. I have an official answer, from the U.S. Government itself.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the Consumer Price Index both nationally and regionally. They define the Midwest as (roughly east to west):
– Ohio
– Michigan
– Indiana
– Illinois
– Wisconsin
– Iowa
– Minnnesota
– Nebraska
– North Dakota
– South Dakota

Conveniently, that’s pretty much my definition. And it’s the federal government, so, it’s authoritative, right? Oklahoma? Not even close. Missouri? Try harder, maybe you’ll be more successful next time. Pennsylvania? Sorry, you’re a Mid-Atlantic state and you might as well just accept the fact. Kansas? Hmm, I can’t explain including Nebraska but not Kansas. But it’s the government, so of course they screwed up a little bit. But it’s official anyway! So if we want Kansas to be Midwest, we’ll just need to vote for politicians who promise to make the Bureau of Labor Statistics promote Kansas to Midwesterndom.

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39 thoughts on “What Is the Midwest?

  1. Also my friends from Minnesota are going to be darn tootin angry about not being included don’t ya know…

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    • Much like the Middle East, the Midwest is apparently riven by long-standing resentments and feuds that seem largely incomprehensible and pointless to outsiders.

      Must the tranquil peace of food court after food court be exploded by surface-polite, gritted-teeth passive aggression? When will the madness end?

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      • You should really check out the VT, NH, ME rivalries. Poor NH, snuggled between two states that are so socialist they only drive through it to get to the other!

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    • Ever spend much time in Illinois? Flat, flat, flat. Flatness certainly doesn’t disqualify someplace as being Midwest.

      But yeah, I don’t get why Nebraska and not Kansas.

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      • I had a friend who had always lived in the BosWash corridor who went to a conference in Kansas City. He decided that to add to his experiences, he would drive a ways out into Kansas — pioneers crossing the prairie sort of thing. He did not make it to Topeka (about 65 miles, with Lawrence in-between) before he discovered that he was absolutely terrified by the “I’m such a small thing crawling across this vast open space under the enormous sky” effect.

        I didn’t have the heart to tell him that that was the crowded part of the state.

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  2. So Erie and Cleveland are in different regions, as are St. Louis and East St. Louis, but Fargo and Cincinnati are in the same region?

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    • Yes! I’d say midwest starts at the appalachians, and ends before the Great Plains, and heads down about to where St. Louis is… But that’s a linguist’s take.

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    • But really, the only objection I have to definition are the inclusion of the Dakotas and Nebraska. Everything west on the longitude on which lies the Northwest Angle has a different physical, historical, and social geography than everything east of it.

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      • Hey, a case where having lived in Nebraska, and visiting regularly, provides useful information! The eastern quarter of Nebraska is indistinguishable from Iowa; the western quarter is indistinguishable from the high plains of Wyoming and Colorado; in between is a transition zone that gets steadily higher and drier as you go west. The vast majority of the population lives in that eastern quarter, so economically the state should be Midwest.

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  3. Growing up in Chicago, my purely subjective sense was that Kansas was Mid-western (one of us), but Missouri was more Southern (one of them). But then that might just have been because Cardinals fans can never be one of us.

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  4. I’d honeslty say that only Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illionis, Missouri and Wisconsin as being part of the mid-West from a cultural standpoint. The Mid-West is anypart of the United States thats roughly in the center of the country and doesn’t have much of a cultural association with the Wild West and frontier living in the popular imagination. We don’t see Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illionis, Missouri, and Wisconsin as being land of rugged pioneers, rowdy cowboys, and boistrous miners. In the popular imagination, they were seen as a very civilized and settled places without a frontier mindset from their earliest settlement.

    Minnesota is its own beast, unique in the United States. It doesn’t fall under any geographical-cultural landscape. Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota have too much of a frontier and pioneer association to count as Mid-Western.

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  5. As someone from Kansas City (Missouri), it boggles my mind that any list of Midwestern states could fail to include Kansas. I do understand the labeling of Missouri as southern, but the northern half (above a line drawn just south of KC and St. Louis) is definitely not in the same category as Mississippi, etc., or even Kentucky or Tennessee. You have to go down into the Ozarks to get actual “southern.”

    Apparently some heathens subscribe to a theory of American geography wherein there is this thing called the “Great Plains” region, which is separate from the “Midwest” and encompasses Kansas, Nebraska, Dakotas, etc. (essentially the “cowboy/frontier” states mentioned above), and in fact any other “left-over” state that does not border on a Great Lake. I have never heard of this region and do not believe it exists as constructed. If pressed, I might agree that we need two categories, so that states like Pennsylvania (really??) or Michigan are not included in the same breath as Kansas, but in that case I would call the groups the Great Lakes states and the Midwestern states, with Kansas (and Missouri!) firmly in the latter.

    I picture the regions of the country as being defined by their location relative to Texas (bear with me). East of Texas is the South and the East. West of Texas is the West. North of Texas is the Mid-West. Texas is just Texas, because they like it that way and You Don’t Mess With Texas. After that, you can sub-divide the regions further if you like, so that the East contains both the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast/New England, or whatever.

    But a list of anything “Midwestern” that doesn’t include Kansas is sheer heresy.

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    • Excellent point about cutting states in half. The west end of Pennsylvania is more Midwestern than Atlantic Coast (IMO; Kim may think differently). The eastern parts of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas are Midwestern, but the Great Plains (white counties on this map) is a thing unto itself, too dry and empty to be Midwestern, but not part of the Mountain West either.

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    • I must furiously disagree with this. The Great Plains state are very real as cultural entities if not geographic identies. When one thinks of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas one imagines settlers arriving in covered wagons, pioners living in sod houses, cowboys looking over great heards of cattle, Native Americans, and Superman. The mid-West brings up images of well-planned villages, bountiful farms, industrial cities, and people enjoying recreational activities on lakes and in the woods. From the perspective of the American imagination, the term Mid-West connotes something entirely different than the Great Plain states. If you can imagine a Hollywood Western taking place in a state than you are not in the Mid-West.

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      • I am inclined to agree with this. It’s just that what some people call “The Midwest” I call “The Great Lakes” and what some people call “The Great Plains” I call “The Midwest.”

        Clark Kent simply can’t be anything but a midwesterner.

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    • When I lived in Knoxville, there was much discussion about whether Knoxville or Pittsburgh was the true capital of a trans-state region called “Appalachia.” Given those choices, I picked Knoxville because Pittsburgh seemed like a northern, eastern, industrialized city, with sports rivalries against obviously non-Appalachian places like Cleveland and New York. Then, I went to Pittsburgh on business, and thought that yeah, there’s a case to be made there. A bigger city, but culturally a lot more similar to Knox than I’d have expected.

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  6. Can you provide a link for where you got your list?

    It looks like in some places Missouri and others are included. See for example this CPI report that includes: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

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