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Florida overtakes New York as third most populous state

Published Dec. 24, 2014

Start spreading the news, New York: Florida has just taken a big bite out of the Big Apple.

Florida has officially overtaken New York as the third-most populous state in the country, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday.

By adding an average of 803 new residents each day between July 1, 2013 and July 1, 2014, Florida grew a total of 293,000 over the period, reaching 19.9 million, the Census Bureau said. The population of New York increased by only 51,000 to 19.7 million.

California remained the nation's most populous state in 2014, with 38.8 million residents, followed by Texas, at 27 million. Thinly populated North Dakota, the epicenter of the nation's energy boom, was the fastest-growing state over the last year, growing at a 2.2 percent clip.

Florida's leapfrog over New York had been anticipated all year long. The population gap between the two states had been narrowing about 150,000 a year between 2010 and 2013, and last year Florida's population was a mere 100,000 shy of matching New York's.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott embraced the state's milestone as "exciting" and tethered it to improved job creation and lower unemployment.

"Florida is on the way to become the number one destination for jobs," he said. "I look forward to more people and more job creators moving to Florida in the near future."

Beyond bragging rights, there's little immediate economic or political impact. Florida will have to wait until the 2020 Census for its higher population to translate into more congressional seats.

Stan Smith, longtime research demographer in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, said the state may be a bit more boastful as more national attention is funneled its way.

"But I'm not sure the rankings per se mean all that much," Smith said. "This is a very important milestone, but it's much more important for what it says about historical growth. … What it is saying is that Florida is a very large state and a very rapidly growing state now for many decades."

The story of Florida's emergence as a national magnet — nurtured by an appealing climate, affordable housing, wide open spaces, 1,200 miles of coast line on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, low taxes and indispensable air conditioning — has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Go back a century, to 1910 specifically, and Florida had a mere 753,000 residents, 33rd among states. New York, the most populous state, boasted 9.1 million residents, or 12 times more than Florida.

There's a reason you're more likely to run into a transplanted Floridian than a native. In 1900, 65 percent of Floridians were born here. In 2012, only 36 percent were born here; the rest of the mix includes 21 percent born outside the U.S. and 8 percent born in New York.

Among Florida's newest residents are Dr. Locke Barber, his wife, Michelle, and their five children, who moved this summer to Palm Harbor from Moorestown, N.J.

The couple had spent their entire lives in the Philadelphia area, but a few years ago began thinking about relocating to another part of the country. He favored Hawaii; she thought that was too far.

"We looked around for a warmer climate but also for cultural and other things,'' says Barber, 60, a radiologist. "I happened to have a friend here. One of the deciding factors for my wife was that people would come and visit.''

They chose the Palm Harbor area because of its relative proximity to Disney World, the easy access to other parts of the country from Tampa International Airport — "we still like to ski" — and the quality of the school system. At their new home on Lake Tarpon, they can gaze at the water and watch deer in the back yard.

"I started looking for a job opportunity," says Barber, who joined a radiology practice, "but this was the right fit for all those other factors."

Booms and busts

Florida's growth journey has been one of booms and busts and inevitable rebounds, even after the recent Great Recession.

Throughout the years, New York's loss has translated almost directly to Florida's gain. During the past four or five decades, New York has been the leading state of origin for new Floridians, often by a large margin, said Smith, the University of Florida demographer. That's followed by other large northern and Midwestern states like New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Although migration from other states continues to be the chief source of Florida's growth, international relocations are increasingly important.

In 1970, foreign immigrants accounted for less than 10 percent of the total migration to Florida. "Now it's more in the neighborhood of 20 to 25 percent," Smith said. As a result, Florida's Hispanics now make up almost 24 percent of the state's population, up from 7 percent some 45 years ago.

Cold weather fatigue clearly played a broad role over the past year in fueling relocations from the Northeast and Midwest.

Each of the 10 fastest-growing states for 2014 was in the South or West with the exception of North Dakota. Moreover, all five states that saw the biggest one-year surge in population, including Florida, were warm climate locales.

Until the 1960s, New York was the biggest state in the union. Then California rushed to the top and Texas, where everything is big, bubbled up to No. 2.

Florida's vault into third place comes as no surprise to the nation's moving companies.

Atlas, the country's second largest mover, has trucked more shipments into Florida this year than it has carried out — 5,791 compared to 4,435.

United, the biggest mover, said New Yorkers have accounted for the largest percentage of United shipments to Florida so far this year, followed by transplants from Virginia, Illinois, California, New Jersey, Texas and Ohio.

As for do-it-yourself-movers, a recent U-Haul report found that of states with more than 20,000 families moving, Florida had the highest percentage of growth — 4.85 percent more families moving into the state last year than out.

United considers Florida an "inbound state," meaning that recent years have seen more shipments in than out.

The only exception: 2008, the start of the Great Recession, "when we had the same number coming in as coming out,'' said Carl Walter, a spokesman for United and sister company Mayflower.

In that recessionary year Florida barely kept its streak of population increases going, aided by the ongoing international influx.

Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said Florida's population growth in more recent years is another reflection of the economy returning to normal. "Housing markets have improved enough around the country that people feel confident they can sell their homes and move on down to Florida," he said.

And, Vitner is quick to add, it's not all retirees. "There are plenty of young, prime-working age adults moving to the state, which is also attracting lots of new businesses."

The James Madison Institute, a conservative think tank in Tallahassee, maintains Florida's success stems from more than just warm weather.

Florida's pro-business and low-tax environment, the institute maintains, has led to the migration of more than $96 billion in income and wealth to Florida from "high-tax and high-regulation states" like New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, the institute said in reaction to the population news.

"Florida has thrived because we have recognized that the real fuel in the engine of economic prosperity comes not from government intrusion in the market, but in freedom from it."

Florida, however, is far from alone.

At UF, Smith said the Sunshine State is part of a much broader national "generational" shift in population from the Northeast/Midwest to the South and West.

Another sign of that wave: North Carolina's population has just surpassed Michigan's.

Contact Jeff Harrington at or (813) 226-3434. Contact Susan Taylor Martin at Follow @susanskate on Twitter.