ORLANDO — Florida saw a massive influx of Central and South Americans in the past decade, adding complexity to a state that is already home to one of the nation's most diverse Hispanic populations, according to census figures released Thursday.
Cubans remain the largest single Hispanic group in Florida, but their share of the state's Latino population dropped slightly over the last decade to just under a third. The number of Central and South Americans increased by more than a half-million. South Florida was their top destination, with Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties gaining more than half of these new arrivals.
"A lot of this story is the continuing unrest of Colombia and Venezuela, the Sandinistas coming back into power in Nicaragua, and the sort of general idea that Florida is becoming an increasingly attractive place to live," said Florida International University political science professor Dario Moreno.
More than 70,000 Central and South Americans also made their home in metro Orlando, and 30,000 others chose the Tampa area.
The census data released Thursday also showed that Florida's largest Asian population were Indians.
The new figures reveal Floridians have gotten older in the past decade. The median age is 40.7, compared to 38.7 a decade ago.
Florida now has the nation's third-largest Latino population at 4.2 million residents — almost a quarter of the Sunshine State's population. And Hispanic growth drove Florida's overall population gains. The only other states with larger Hispanic populations, California and Texas, are dominated by Latinos of Mexican descent.
Despite the changes, the Cuban-American community continues to dominate the political scene because it remains the most reliable voting bloc, Moreno noted.
The Cuban-American and Puerto Rican populations grew in almost equal numbers during the past decade, an outcome that could start shifting Hispanic influence from South Florida to Central Florida in coming years.