For the first time since the 1940s, more people moved out of Florida last year than new residents moved in from other states as the economic slump halted years of explosive population growth in the Sunshine State.
Florida reported a net loss of 9,286 domestic residents between July 2007 and July 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released this month. But that loss was offset by a net gain of 77,427 new international residents, mainly Latin American immigrants.
The loss of domestic residents who once flocked to the Sunshine State's condo towers and palm tree-lined neighborhoods also was offset by more births than deaths during the year, according to the census data.
The census data looked at population changes from July 2007 to July 2008 in Florida, which currently has 18.3 million residents and is the nation's fourth-most-populous state.
It was the first time Florida has experienced a year-to-year loss in domestic migration since the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic Research began keeping records in 1972. It also was probably the first dip since shortly after World War II, when soldiers who had come to Florida for training returned home after the war, said Stanley Smith, the bureau's director.
"This, I think, is much more fundamental and related to the national economic situation and the recession," Smith said.
The state's 9.5 percent unemployment rate is its highest since 1975, which translates into fewer jobs to attract new workers. A nationwide housing slump also has stymied out-of-state residents seeking to sell their homes to move to Florida.
Growth has been the economic engine of Florida for decades. But Smith said he doesn't expect any significant population growth in the state until the national economy rebounds in a year or two.
And when a recovery does occur, Florida's growth isn't likely to reach the heights it did this decade, he added.
"Those were abnormally high," Smith said. "The economy was booming. Florida was adding a lot of jobs, it was easy to get loans for mortgages, and Florida's construction industry was booming."
Factoring in the net gain of 77,427 new international residents, Florida had a total net migration gain of 68,141 people last year. Last year's loss in domestic migration also was offset by 235,241 births compared with 176,811 deaths recorded from July 2007 to July 2008.
Taking into account all demographic changes, Pinellas County lost 4,184 people in those 12 months, capping a multiyear slide in population. Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties all gained population.
But Florida's total migration gain was paltry considering that for the past eight years Florida averaged a combined annual gain of 293,000 domestic and international residents.
"Our No. 1 industry here is growth, whether you like it or not," said Richard Crotty, mayor of Orange County, which is home to Orlando.
Times staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report.