After the recession caused Florida to lose population for the first time in more than 60 years, the state's population is growing again, according to preliminary estimates released Thursday by the University of Florida.
UF researchers calculated a "modest" addition of more than 21,000 residents from April 2009 to April 2010. From 2008 to 2009, Florida's population fell by more than 56,000.
Stan Smith, director of UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said the rebound is a tentative sign that the worst of the recession has passed.
"Even though the state turned it around, it still represents the smallest population increase since the 1940s and does not make up for last year's loss," Smith said. "Florida's population growth continues to be very, very slow by historical standards."
From 2003 to 2006, Florida's population grew by more than 400,000 per year, and in the previous three decades increases averaged about 300,000 per year.
Last year's population decline in the midst of the recession was the first since 1946, when military personnel left the state at the end of World War II.
The rebound was in line with predictions in March, when UF said population likely grew about 23,000 year over year.
Counties statewide were fairly split between those that lost and those that gained population, but there were some stark contrasts.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in the Tampa Bay area. Hillsborough County added 6,353 residents, second only to Miami-Dade, which grew by 8,253 residents.
Smith said some large counties grew because of a fairly sizable number of births and an increase in foreign immigrants.
On the flip side, the largely built-out Pinellas County lost 3,119 residents, second only to Seminole, which lost 3,659 people. Pinellas County's population has slightly declined every year since 2006.
The county posting the biggest percentage increase in residents was Lafayette, up 5.2 percent — but Smith attributed the jump largely to the addition of state prison inmates.
Looking ahead, UF is forecasting continued slow growth, certainly slower than during the state's recent boom times.
Within the next 10 to 20 years, UF researchers said, the state may gradually reach annual population growth as high as 250,000.
One factor inhibiting growth in the short term is the housing slump gripping the country.
"A lot of retirees who might have otherwise moved to Florida have trouble selling their homes in Ohio, New York, Michigan and so forth," Smith said, "so they're putting off a move."
Florida's estimated population as of April 1 was 18,771,768.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8242.