It’s not what you’d call unexpected news: Last week, for the first time ever, the Census Bureau reported that white births are no longer a majority in the United States.

For the 12-month period that ended last July, 50.4 percent of the children born in this country were minorities — including Hispanics, blacks, Asians and those of mixed race. White births, meanwhile, fell to 49.6 percent.

Missed it? Maybe that’s because Maine, where 94.3 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white, has regained its dubious distinction as the least colorful state in the nation.

Again, not a big surprise. Along with Vermont (currently second at 94.2 percent) and New Hampshire (fourth at 92.2 percent), Maine long has been at or near the top of places where the population skews decidedly vanilla.

Which brings us to an obvious-yet-rarely-asked question: Why, as the rest of the country changes color right before our eyes, is Maine so perpetually pale?

“It’s the weather,” more than one white Mainer told me as I shopped that query about last week. “It’s too cold for minorities.”

To which Shay Stewart-Bouley of Saco replies, “I don’t buy that at all.”

Stewart-Bouley, who is African-American with a “splash of Mexican,” moved to Maine from Chicago for family-related reasons a decade ago.

She works as executive director of the Joyful Harvest Neighborhood Center in Biddeford, writes a column called “Diverse-City” for the Portland Phoenix and also writes an often-hilarious blog called “Black Girl in Maine.”

Awhile back, Stewart-Bouley posted an entry on her blog entitled “Moving to Maine … the Black Edition” — a heads-up of sorts for other African-Americans who might be considering a move here.

“Well the first thing you need to know about Maine, it’s really, really white,” she wrote. “So white you will be like oh my!”

But that’s not because of the weather, she said in an interview last week.

“To be honest, the weather here is far nicer than the winters back home in Chicago,” observed Stewart-Bouley. “Hands down, Maine gets more snow than I’m accustomed to, but from a temperature perspective, I haven’t worn long underwear in probably 10 years. So this is a pretty warm place.”

Stewart-Bouley’s theory: With the exception of urban centers like Portland and Lewiston, Maine’s color is largely dictated by the “rural nature of the state. By and large, most minorities live in large urban areas that have a very different infrastructure than a state like Maine.”

She’s got a point: Maine’s minority clusters, fueled largely by resettled refugees and other immigrants, are found in Portland (83.6 percent white) and Lewiston (85.5 percent white).

Hence only Cumberland, Androscoggin and Washington counties (home to much of Maine’s American Indian populations) fall below the state’s white-population rate of 94.3 percent. All other 13 counties are even whiter than the statewide rate.

Dante Chinni, who directs a project called Patchwork Nation for the Jefferson Institute in Washington, D.C., says three factors tend to push minority populations upward these days — particularly when it comes to the widespread growth in Hispanic numbers that he says are primarily behind the nation’s rapidly changing color.

The first is proximity to the Southwest — Texas, New Mexico and California are now the country’s least-white locations (along with Hawaii and Washington, D.C.).

The second factor, Chinni said, is any housing boom that depends on a deep pool of readily available construction workers.

“In Maine, you never really got the big housing bump,” he noted.

Finally, Chinni said, there’s large-scale agriculture that, like construction, requires more workers than the indigenous population can provide. Beyond its annual blueberry harvest, Maine has little to offer there as well.

Of course, there’s also the map.

“It’s a long way to go to get up to Maine,” Chinni noted. “It’s a helluva drive.”

Ah, but it’s also paradise. Even for someone like Stewart-Bouley, who loves the fact that “people here are actually nice. They speak to each other.”

Sure, Black Girl in Maine (she calls herself BGIM for short) has run into her share of bigots over the last 10 years. But the longer she stays, the less she sees Maine as just a stop along the way.

“I’ve been as far north as Millinocket and I still find people to be pleasant,” Stewart-Bouley said. “I think that by and large, Mainers don’t see race. If you come here with a pretty decent attitude and you don’t bring any biases with you, people will meet you where you are.”

Chinni agrees with that — to a point. He can still recall growing up just outside Detroit, where his high school and its one black student stood in stark contrast to the all-black schools just a few miles away.

That prompted the young Chinni to once tell his father, who’d grown up in the heart of Detroit, that all this talk about prejudice was bunk because “nobody has any problem with this kid at all — he actually gets along with everybody and it’s fine.”

Replied his father, “It’s not a problem when it’s one or two people. The racial tensions grow when you have a big enough group for people to feel threatened by that.”

(If you were anywhere near Lewiston in 2003, you know what Dad was talking about: While some still insist that the outcry against that city’s influx of Somali refugees was based on economics, the sudden backlash is remembered more to this day for its unusually virulent racist rhetoric.)

How long Maine will remain the nation’s whitest state is anyone’s guess — although it should be noted that the statewide percentage of whites, high as it might be, actually has dropped 2.6 percent since a decade ago.

And that’s a good thing — at least according to Dowell Myers, a professor of policy, planning and demography at the University of Southern California.

Myers told The New York Times last week that the steady browning of America puts us at an advantage over some European countries where immigration rates are lower and the young, home-grown populations are too small to support their elders.

“If the U.S. depended on white births alone, we’d be dead,” Myers told the Times. “Without the contributions from all these other groups, we would become too top-heavy with old people.”

Not exactly what we need to hear up this way, professor.

Maine, it turns out, isn’t just the whitest state in the union.

With a median age of 42.7, we’re also the oldest.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]