April 20, 2024

Dimensions of Growth: The 2020 Census shows the new face of Florida

From 2010-20, Florida's population grew by 14.6% to more than 21.5 million. The boom didn't include all of Florida's counties, however.

Mike Vogel | 10/27/2021


Osceola County

The distinctions pile up for Osceola County: Fastest-growing county (up 44.7%) in Florida by percentage change. One of the fastest growing in total numbers. A top-10 county for most housing units added. “We have grown leaps and bounds,” says Brandon Arrington, chairman of the county’s board of commissioners and a county native whose family came in the 1950s to farm.

Osceola added 119,971 people since 2010 — or half again as much as its largest city, Kissimmee. Arrington thinks even that number is too low. He believes the Census undercounted by about 40,000 people.

Over the decade, Osceola became a Hispanic-majority county — one of three in Florida, along with Miami-Dade and Hendry — thanks to an influx of people from Puerto Rico. Osceola’s Hispanic population has grown so fast that the county actually is less diverse than it was in 2010, when neither any single race nor the Hispanic ethnicity made a majority. Now, Hispanics make up 54.3% of the county’s population, whites 29.2% (down from 40% a decade ago) and blacks 9% (down slightly from a decade ago.)

It’s the 16th most-populous county but 19th in housing units, though builders are adding houses to close the gap. The county is fifth in the state in adding dwellings, with a 20.7% gain since 2010.

All the growth presents challenges. Arrington says the county is working with landowners and developers to plan for sustainable, mixed-use growth and avoid the overwhelming residential-only growth such as occurred along Pleasant Hill Road. Osceola has the highest impact fee to raise money for infrastructure. And voters in 2016 approved a half-cent sales tax surcharge to fund school infrastructure.

UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research projects Osceola’s population will grow to 512,481 by 2030, up from 388,656 in 2020.

Youth Movement

Nationally, the under-18 population dropped 1.4% in the last decade.

Florida bucked that trend but still grew older overall.

First, the youth: With a net gain of 196,864 in its under-18 population, the state trailed only Texas in absolute numbers. Florida and Texas were the only two states to gain more than 100,000 youth.

In percentage growth of youth, Florida ranked ninth nationally. Nationally, 22 states and the District of Columbia gained youth; the rest lost young people. The number of youth in California, the nation’s most populous state, dropped 6.3%.

According to an analysis by Brookings demographer William Frey, the net gain in Florida owed largely to a gain of 259,931 Hispanics — the largest such gain in the nation — and a gain of 129,800 youth whose families identified them as of two or more races. Those gains more than offset a 202,482 net drop in whites and a 35,054 drop in black youth.

Only Utah, North Dakota and D.C. had a net gain in the white under-18 population. Seven states, primarily in the Northeast, lost more youth identified as white than Florida. California’s net loss was a half a million.

Counting Kids

The 2020 Census says 34 of the state’s 67 counties had a net loss of under-18 youth in the last decade. In percentage terms, the biggest decline was in one of the state’s smallest counties, Lafayette in North Florida, which saw a net loss of 378 young people for a 21% drop.

In absolute numbers, the biggest loser was Miami-Dade, which lost 22,000 youth. That’s as many young people as the enrollment in 38 of Florida’s school districts. Pinellas had a net loss of 13,902, or 8.5%. No other county reported a loss of more than 2,000.

Demographers say accurately counting children is difficult. Children can be under-counted for a variety of reasons: Parents misunderstand whether to include them on the Census form, have a language barrier or don’t want to tell the government about them. Accurately counting kids is important because federal funding to support children is apportioned by population.

The question then is whether the Census whiffed in places such as Miami-Dade. Children’s Trust of Miami, a local youth services organization, called the Census count “surprising” and out of line with other county, region and state statistics. “We do know that there were several difficulties in conducting the Census during 2020, including the pandemic, concerns by immigrant populations (perceived threats) and other delays, which may have added to the underreporting,” e-mailed Children’s Trust spokeswoman Ximena Nunez.

The youth count and overall count for Miami-Dade similarly “came as a surprise to us,” says Stefan Rayer, who directs population research at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. He says the Census count for Miami-Dade showed the greatest divergence from the UF bureau’s estimates. He says that in 2022, the Census will release more data, which could shed light on the differences.

“We don’t have any real evidence yet to determine to what extent — if any — (an undercount) was indeed the case,” says Rayer. He notes that overall, the county grew by 205,000 people, third only behind Orange and Hillsborough.


Complicated Count

Florida and the nation both grew more diverse since 2010. Florida’s statewide diversity score, according to the Census, is 64.1, up from 59.1 in 2010. That diversity index measures the probability that two people chosen at random will be from different races or be Hispanic or not. In the U.S., there’s a 61.1% chance two people chosen at random will be from different groups.

Diversity increased in the state, but not uniformly, and some areas grew less diverse.

Broward, the Census reports, is Florida’s most diverse county, with the population self-identifying by roughly thirds as Hispanic, black and white. Broward is the 23rd most diverse county nationally. Pinellas, the least diverse of Florida’s major counties, grew more diverse in a decade, up to 46.7%, up from 39.1 in 2010.

Florida is 10th in diversity, behind Hawaii, California, Nevada, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Texas, New Jersey, New York and Georgia.


A Tale of Two Counties

Miami-Dade, says the local economic development organization, the Beacon Council, is “diverse and international like no other American city; more than half our population was born outside the United States.” Some call Miami-Dade the Gateway to Latin America or the capital of Latin America. Some 82.7% of the population is Hispanic or black. Students in its public schools speak 56 languages.

In contrast, Manatee County, on the south side of Tampa Bay, is 68.3% white. It’s home to the 50-square-mile Lakewood Ranch, the quintessential planned community with parks, town centers and lots of single-family suburban homes. It’s said to be the best-selling multigenerational community in the nation.

Of the two, however, Manatee is more diverse, according to the U.S. Census. And both counties, in terms of the rest of the Florida, are middle of the pack in diversity. Manatee’s diversity index is 49.4; Miami- Dade’s is 48.9. The Census’ diversity index measures the probability that two people chosen at random will be from different races or be Hispanic or not. By that measure, Manatee ranks 32nd among Florida’s 67 counties. Miami-Dade ranks 33rd.

A funny thing happened on the path to diversity in Miami- Dade that illustrates the complexity of discussing race and ethnicity. Miami-Dade has become so Hispanic that it’s less diverse than 20 years ago. From 2010 to 2020, it added 233,079 people who identified as Hispanic but lost 46,894 who identified as solely black and 22,044 who identified as solely white. The black population declined by 3 percentage points and the white by 2 percentage points, while the Hispanic grew by nearly 4. The county diversity index fell from 52.4 to 48.9.

“It all depends on how you mean diversity,” says Jorge Duany, a Florida International University professor and expert on Hispanic migration. And it relies on the supposition that Hispanics are the same since they speak Spanish and come from Latin America. In reality, the Hispanic population is “increasingly heterogeneous,” Duany says. Decades ago, Cubans were so prevalent in Southeast Florida that Cuban and Hispanic were nearly synonymous. But growing numbers of people from Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Honduras, Colombia and elsewhere have diminished Cubans’ relative share.

By the Census’ diversity index, the state’s other two majority Hispanic counties — Osceola south of Orlando and Hendry west of Lake Okeechobee — also grew less diverse in the last decade.

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