December 8, 2023
Florida's population is 20 million strong

Florida's population is 20 million strong

Mike Vogel | 8/27/2015

By the end of 2013, Florida had passed New York as the third most populous state. By the middle of 2014, according to the U.S. Census, Florida’s population reached 19.9 million. The University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research’s estimate is slightly lower — BEBR figures the population reached 19.81 million this April.

By either reckoning, Florida will have more than 20 million residents by the end of the year. Start with births, subtract deaths, add new arrivals from the U.S. and abroad, and Florida is gaining about 781 people per day — the equivalent of adding a city bigger than Orlando every year. In a quarter-century, the state’s population will hit 26.1 million, UF projects.

Some context: Florida is still growing, but not quite like we used to. Recent decades saw the state add 3 million people per decade. Nor is Florida’s growth on par with growth in Texas, which is adding nearly 1,200 people a day.


Every Year, 285,000 New Floridians

Each year for the next five, Florida is expected to add about 285,000 people to its population. That increase will be spread across the state, of course, but seen collectively it amounts to adding a city bigger than Orlando each year. FLORIDA TREND consolidated the collective impact from just one year’s population growth into a mythical town to show the demand on resources and infrastructure that a year’s worth of growth creates.



Migration, not natural increase, continues to drive Florida’s population growth.

Births outnumbered deaths in Florida by more than 154,000 from 2010 to 2014, but that natural increase accounted for only about 22% of Florida’s growth. The rest has come from in-migration. The state, in fact, would be growing slowly if it relied on its population to fill cradles faster than it fills caskets. The state’s latest fertility rate is 1.77, well below the 2.1 generally considered necessary for a stable population.

National fertility rates for non-Hispanic whites and blacks as well as for Florida’s three largest Hispanic groups, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, all are below replacement. Other Hispanic nationalities have higher rates, but nationally the fertility rate has been declining for nearly all race and Hispanic origin groups.

Think native Floridians are scarce now? By about 2030, as Boomer mortality accelerates, all of Florida’s growth will come from migration unless fertility rates stage an unforeseen comeback.


For Every 10 New Floridians ...

2 — more births than deaths in the state

Eighteen counties, including Alachua County, home to Gainesville and UF, and Bay County in northwest Florida, got more growth from natural increase (births minus deaths) than they did from in-migration, according to the Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR). The only major county among those counties was Duval County (Jacksonville), which got the lion’s share of its growth from natural increase, 81%. Another large county, Broward, managed to balance in-migration and natural increase 50-50.

6 — people who have moved to Florida from other U.S. states

Nearly half of the counties in Florida — 30 of 67 — got their entire growth via in-migration. In all those counties, there were more deaths than births. In Pinellas (St. Petersburg/Clearwater), for example, the population increased from 916,542 in 2010 to 933,258 even though deaths outnumbered births. Another 15 counties got more than two-thirds of their growth from migration.

2 — people who have moved to Florida from outside the U.S.

The number of foreign-born residents increased by 42.4% between 2000-13.



Non-Hispanic Whites: As of 2014, the majority of Floridians — 56.4% — are white, non-Hispanics. By 2040, rapid growth by other races and Hispanics means white, non- Hispanics won’t constitute a majority any longer, becoming the state’s biggest minority, at 49% of the population. Counties with the highest percentages of non-Hispanic whites currently include Martin, Gilchrist, Pasco, Sarasota and Citrus.

Hispanics: Over the next quarter century, the number of Hispanics will soar by more than 3 million, from about 24% of all Floridians now to a full 30% by 2040. Hispanics constituted just 17% of the state’s population in 2000. The Hispanic population is concentrated largely in southeast Florida — Miami-Dade is two-thirds Hispanic — and around Orlando. In Hillsborough County (Tampa), more than a quarter of the population is Hispanic, but just across the bay, Pinellas County (St. Petersburg/Clearwater) is only 9% Hispanic. Upstate, Duval County is 8% Hispanic.

African-Americans: In the next 25 years, the share of the population that’s non- Hispanic black will grow by 1.1 percentage points to 17.1%. The total black population is projected to grow to 18.8%. Florida’s black population remains concentrated in urban areas in the larger counties and in the state’s northern tier in counties close to the Georgia and Alabama borders.



New arrivals continue to concentrate in alreadypopulous counties.

The seven most populous counties in Florida — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange, Pinellas and Duval — now hold about as many people as the other 60 counties combined.

29.6% — Nearly a third of the state’s population is concentrated in Miami- Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.


The ‘Silver Tsunami’

Florida’s reputation as a senior citizen stronghold will only increase as the “silver tsunami” — the wave of aging, soon-to-retire Baby Boomers that’s also known as the “gray wave” — swells. The first Boomers hit 65 in 2011, and the last reach that milestone in 2029.

Today, not quite one in five Floridians is a senior. By 2040, it will be one in four. The number of seniors in Florida — of all races and ethnicities — is projected to nearly double to 7 million, the Boomers’ last boom before they stretch the capacity of the funeral industry.

“It’s going to be a big change for the state,” says Stefan Rayer, population program director at the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

It’s not true that seniors are the predominant age group that moves to Florida. Two age groups dominate the ranks of in-migrants: Young adults and those in their 50s and 60s. But young adults also dominate the numbers of those who move out of Florida, so the net migration skews old.


Retirees are more dispersed around the state

Miami-Dade and Broward, once synonymous with retirees, now are below the state average in the percentage of seniors in their populations. Counties with the highest share of seniors include Sumter, Charlotte, Citrus, Highlands and Sarasota. Among the major counties, only Pinellas and Palm Beach have a share of seniors above the state average.

Seniors: Notable

California has about 1 million more seniors than Florida, but Florida has the highest percentage of seniors among all states (18.7%).

For youth, look rural: Hendry, Hardee, Osceola, Clay and Baker have the highest percentages of younger residents. Among larger counties, Hillsborough and Orange are in the top 10 in Florida for youth share; Broward and Miami-Dade are in the top 25.

The Abuela Factor

The ranks of the elderly aren’t all white non-Hispanic — the percentage of seniors who are foreign-born is higher than that of the population as a whole. More than 700,000 Floridians 65 and older don’t speak English at home and of that group, 65% speak English less than “very well.”


Where We Come From

Immigrants come to Florida by many paths. Ignacio Diaz’s came through consulting. The son of a real estate family in Caracas, Venezuela, he studied engineering at the Universidad Simón Bolivar there and then joined consulting firm Booz & Co. He did so well the company sent him to MIT for an MBA, sponsored his permanent resident application — the green card — as a foreign employee being relocated to the United States. After the MBA, Booz sent him to Chicago for six years. Last year, he moved to Florida to manage full time his Boca Raton-based real estate company, Group P6. With concerns about personal safety nowadays in his native country, “I have almost no immediate family left in Venezuela.” Troubles in Venezuela have led to a near doubling since 2000 of the number of Floridians born in Venezuela. Group P6 has three high-end condo and two townhouse projects under way. Sales have gone “even better than expected.” Diaz can become a naturalized citizen next year. Says Diaz, “I’m happy in Florida, primarily because the real estate market is healthier than other places.”

Puerto Rico

Florida is home to 421,446 residents born in Puerto Rico. That’s equal to 12% of the 3.5 million people who live on the island, which is experiencing accelerating out-migration.

Foreign-Born Floridians

U.S. policy, geography and the internal dynamics of countries abroad have altered the mix of who moves to Florida, but foreign immigrants, arriving with tourist or work visas, green cards or without permission, keep coming. Some 3.8 million Floridians were born abroad, accounting for 19.4% of the state’s overall population. They come from at least 132 countries.

By the next Census, the number of Asians moving to Florida likely will pass the number of European immigrants, which increased by only 6% between 2000-10.

Among the Asian immigrants to Florida is Di Song, a 27-year-old landscape architect who comes from a coastal city three hours from Beijing. After earning her master’s in landscape architecture at Clemson University in May, she joined Nievera Williams Design, a national landscape architectural firm based in Palm Beach, as an entry level landscape designer/drafter. She still has her student visa and hopes to secure a work visa to let her stay at least several years. “I like Florida,” she says. “I would like to work here as long as I can.” While a student at Clemson, she traveled to Florida twice, once to Tampa and Orlando and once to Miami and Key West. And Disney. “Of course,” she says. At the last Census, 375,049 people in Florida were born in Asia.


Some 60,000 Floridians were born in Africa. Florida ranks 10th nationally in the number of residents born in Africa but, given the influx of people from Latin America, the number of African-born Floridians is just 2% of the state’s foreign-born population. Florida, among the states, has the highest share of people from Northern Africa and Southern Africa.


Duval County (Jacksonville) has a relatively small foreign-born population, but that population is one of the most diverse in Florida. Major contributors are Cuba, Colombia, Bosnia, Vietnam, Haiti, Jamaica, the U.K., China, Canada, Peru, Germany, Iraq, Brazil and Albania.

A trend in Miami-Dade has been the rising number of Latin Americans from countries other than Cuba. While the trend is real, Cuba still dominates as the place of birth for Miami-Dade’s foreign-born population. The county has 619,055 people born in Cuba. The second-place country, Colombia, totals only 91,000. In Polk County, Mexicans dominate by a wide margin.

So many among the fast-growing Venezuelan-born population live in Doral in Miami-Dade that it’s gained the nickname “Doralezuala.”

Haitians, another fast-growing immigrant group in Florida, now dominate housekeeping jobs in central Florida hotels.

Unauthorized ... According to estimates from the Pew Research Center, about 24% of Florida’s foreign-born population — some 925,000 — are here without documents. The number of undocumented residents, according to Pew, rose from 240,000 in 1990 to peak at more than 1 million in 2007 before falling back to its current level, the same number as was estimated in 2005.

20 Million: Challenges


Issues of Aging

While graying trends will pose challenges to the nation, “Floridians will face them more acutely,” says Lynne Holt, policy analyst at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service in Gainesville.

For one, working-age Floridians made up 41.5% of the state population as recently as 2000. By 2030, that percentage will fall to 36%. Florida currently has three working-age people for every retiree, according to a Senate committee report from February. By 2030, it will have only two for every retiree.

Working-age people will have a hefty burden to shoulder financially and physically. Florida rates poorly in its support of family members caring for elderly relatives. And based on current utilization stats, Florida will need 1.2 million health care workers by 2030, up from 961,317 in 2012.

Young retirees bring assets, buy homes and goods with which to furnish them and are active. But as the years pass and health declines, assets dwindle. In Florida now, one-quarter of seniors live alone. One third have a Census-defined disability. A fifth have difficulty walking. Fewer than 1% of Florida seniors under 69 are in nursing facilities, but 7.1% of those 85 and up are. Assisted-living facilities and Alzheimer’s and disability care all are expensive.

The relative numbers of family caregivers will decline given the shrinking of the American family. By 2030, 1.7 million Florida seniors will rely on Social Security for at least 90% of their income.

Also, wealth tensions could play a role as Florida ages. Older Boomers are more likely than younger Boomers and following generations to have defined benefit pensions and to have locked in substantial appreciation on their homes. “How willing is the younger generation going to be to provide service and support to the older generation? What are they going to get out of it?” Holt wonders.

James Johnson Jr., director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says it’s vital for aging empty nesters in Florida to realize how important it is for the state to improve its K-12 education, even as the generation in school looks less and less racially and ethnically like theirs does.

“The real challenge for Florida and the nation is convincing aging empty nesters they have a dog in the fight, that is improving the quality of the education. That’s the next generation that has to improve the state and pay into Social Security. If we’re going to thrive, progress and compete, it’s going to take investments in the next generation to make sure your state remains viable. You’re going to get old some day. You want them to be able to count your pills,” Johnson says.

25% — Percentage of seniors who live alone

21.7% — Percentage of seniors who have difficulty walking

3 — Number of working age people per senior in 2015

2 — Number of working-age people per senior projected in 2030

Source: Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs

Impact: Visitors

On any given day, according to Visit Florida, the state is home away- from-home for 1.8 million people — more than the population of 12 states. In 2014, the state hosted 98.9 million visitors. The Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research projects we’ll have 107.4 million visitors next year, rising to 157.8 million by 2025, including more visitors just from other countries than the state’s current population. “We’re not just housing Floridians. We’re housing all these other folks,” says Tim Chapin, professor of urban and regional planning at Florida State University.

Impact: Houses and Cars

We’ll be building 77,300 to 107,800 new single-family homes a year for the next decade and 54,100 to 74,400 new multifamily units. We’ll put 696,700 to 760,900 new cars on the road a year and 610,700 to 632,100 new light trucks, according to the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research. The projection includes both sales to a growing population and also sales to existing residents replacing cars and dwellings, but does not represent a “net” addition because it doesn’t subtract vehicles and dwellings that are retired or destroyed.

Impact: More Urban Land

In 2006, environmental group 1000 Friends of Florida worked with the University of Florida to envision Florida in the year 2060. It projected Florida’s population would double by then, adding 17.9 million. Absent a significant change in Florida growth policies, a doubling of the state population would mean putting 7 million more Florida acres — an area bigger than Vermont — into urban use, according to the study. The state share of urban acreage would jump to 35%, up from 16% in 2006.

Caveat: Projections can change. 1000 Friends of Florida in its 2006 report expected Florida’s population would reach around 35.8 million by 2060. That was before the Great Recession hit and slowed growth. In its upcoming report, Florida 2070, it projects Florida won’t reach about 32 million until 2070.

Will We All Fit?

Sinkholes, congested roads, portable classrooms, rooftops as far as the eye can see. The evidence of a growing Florida is all around as the state reaches 20 millionin population. Can it take another 2.8 million or more in the next 10 years much less the 14 million some project by 2070?

Florida’s carrying capacity remains unknown. “There’s a theoretical maximum, yes. Frankly, we have no idea what that is,” says Tim Chapin, professor of urban and regional planning at Florida State University.

One difficulty in finding a ceiling for how many people Florida can hold is that the yardsticks to measure capacity can change. Water, for instance, is a defining resource. And while it’s easy to arrive at a figure for how much water Floridians use per day, you can’t divide Florida’s water supply capacity by that number and get a figure for how many people can be supplied.

For one, you can add water supply. The state’s most recent projection was that Florida would need another 1.3 billion gallons of freshwater per day by 2030, an increase of 21%, and 1.4 billion gallons per day by 2035. The state’s traditional water source — groundwater — won’t meet that demand. But the same study says that by using reclaimed water, brackish water, surface water and even expensive desalinated seawater, Florida can produce 2 billion gallons per day, more than enough to get us to 2035.

Demand also can shrink with conservation. Residential water use per capita fell from 123 gallons per capita per day in 1995 to 89 gallons in 2010.

Growth will require other changes in how Floridians live. Look for more vertical construction and denser development. Small cities like Sebring won’t see forty-floor residential towers, but are likely to see more three- and six-story multifamily structures.

“There can be room for more growth if you put it in the right places,” says Charles Pattison, policy director for 1000 Friends of Florida.

One question for which there can be no answer is whether new arrivals will keep coming. Chapin says states such as Colorado, North Carolina and Tennessee have joined Florida and Arizona as retiree draws.

“Florida’s got to compete better for the retirees” by strengthening its health care and transportation networks, he says.

Florida may remain as much a magnet for retirees as it has in the past. But costs and the competition from other states will affect its pull. “Will people who retire 10, 20, 30 years from now have the same preferences?” asks Stefan Rayer, director, population program, Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida.

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