Census: Florida defies decline in population growth; nation becomes more diverse

Florida’s population grew from 18.8 million residents in 2010 to 21.5 million in 2020.
Beach goers are seen along Clearwater Beach Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Florida and its beaches have become a top destination during a pandemic spring break.
Beach goers are seen along Clearwater Beach Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Florida and its beaches have become a top destination during a pandemic spring break. [ Times (2021) ]
Published Aug. 12, 2021|Updated Aug. 13, 2021

The U.S. Census Bureau reported on Thursday that the nation is looking more like Florida as the population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse than at any time in U.S. history, with large increases in the populations of people who identify as Hispanic, Asian and more than one race.

Highlighting the announcement was the fact that the last decade was the first time in U.S. history when the nation’s non-Hispanic white population declined — a decrease of 2.6 percent over 10 years — a change that was offset by the increase in the number of people who identify as white plus another race, which rose by 316 percent.

Across the nation, from West Virginia, to Wisconsin and Texas, the diversity profile of the U.S. population is rising rapidly, said Nicholas Jones, director of race ethnicity research for the Census Bureau’s population division in an online webinar on the Census data release.

“At the national level, there was a 61.1 percent chance that two people chosen at random are from different race and ethnicity groups — higher than in 2010 when the diversity index was 54.9 percent,” he said. In Florida, the chance that two random people would be from different races and ethnicity groups rose from 59.1 percent to 64.1 percent.

Central to understanding the country’s racial and ethnic diversity was the question relating to Hispanic or Latino origin, Jones said.

“The white population remains the largest race or ethnicity group in the United States,’’ Jones said, with 204.3 million people identifying as white alone. The white alone non-Hispanic population decreased to 57.8 percent of the population, from 63.7 percent in 2010.

The Hispanic or Latino population was the second-largest racial or ethnic group, comprising 18.7 percent of the total population. The Black or African American alone non-Hispanic population was the third-largest group at 12.1 percent, 46.9 million.

People who identify as two or more races made up 33.8 million of the population in 2020, Jones said.

The next largest racial populations were the Asian alone or in combination group, 24 million, the American Indian and Alaska Native alone or in combination group, 9.7 million, and the Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone or in combination group, 1.6 million.

In Florida, the percentage of people identifying themselves as from more than one racial or ethnic group also increased dramatically as the percentage of people who identify as white, including Hispanics, declined as it had from 2000 to 2010.

In the 2020 Census, 69 percent of Floridians identified themselves as White only; 18 percent of Floridians identified themselves as Black or African American only — up from 16 percent in 2010 — and 9 percent identified as multiracial, a 55 percent increase over 2010.

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The data also shows the U.S. population growth slowed this decade and “only the 1930s had slower growth,” said Marc Perry, senior demographer for the U.S. Census Population Bureau.

But Florida was one of the few states that defied that trend, with its population growing 14.6 percent from 18.8 million residents in 2010 to 21.5 million in 2020. Voting age population rose during that time from 14.7 million in 2010 to 17 million in 2020.

While 52 percent of all counties in the nation experienced a decline in population over the last 10 years, with small and rural counties seeing the greatest decline, a majority of Florida counties — nearly all of them in the most populous areas of the state — saw population increases.

Related: Florida's high-stakes redistricting process about to start

The data released Thursday is the first detailed information on race, ethnicity and population at the local level from the 2020 Census, and it will be used to update state and local political boundaries to better match population and to draw down federal funds for social service and infrastructure programs.

In Florida, the data shows that the metro area that saw some of the fastest growth in the nation occurred in Central Florida, where the counties of Lake, Sumter and Marion saw exponential growth.

“The Villages, Florida, was the country’s fastest-growing metro area this decade,” with a 39 percent increase from 2010, Perry said.

Jacksonville is the only Florida city that had population gains of at least 50,000 people in 2010, while Osceola County saw its population rise by 44.6 percent and Walton County in North Florida saw a 36.8 percent growth in residents.

The Census data is arriving at least six months later than normal as COVID-19-related delays slowed both the collection and reporting of Census data. The data release is also the result of one of the most contentious census processes in decades, after former President Donald J. Trump tried unsuccessfully to have unauthorized immigrants removed from the count.

Experts warned that the controversy may have led to a reluctance of immigrants to responded to the Census. A study published by the personal finance company SmartAsset in December found that Miami had the slowest self-response rate among the 50 most populous cities.

The data the U.S. Census sent to the states Thursday will be used to draw legislative maps that will serve as the political boundaries for the next decade. Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson used the release to announce they will allow for the public to submit maps, as they have done in the past, and warned legislators “to take care to insulate themselves from interests that may intentionally or unintentionally attempt to inappropriately influence the redistricting process.”

The Census data will determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and how to distribute hundreds of billions in federal funding for public services for the next 10 years. Because Florida remains one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, Florida’s congressional delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives will go from 27 to 28 members.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature will be in charge of drawing a new congressional map, as well as maps for the state House and state Senate, in time for the 2022 elections. If the maps draw legal challenges and hold up to court scrutiny, they will be in place through 2030.

The stakes are enormous. Democrats hold a slim majority in Congress and a slight partisan gain in key battleground states like Florida, which currently has 16 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the U.S House, with one vacancy in the South Florida seat formerly held by the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat.

“These data play an important role in our democracy and also begin to illuminate how the local and demographic makeup of our nation has changed over the last decade,” said Ron Jarmin, acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

The national data also reflects a trend that has been in occurring Florida for decades: The country is moving toward a majority-minority population as racial and ethnic diversity is occurring most rapidly among younger residents.

The data shows that the number of non-Hispanic white people in the U.S. declined in each of the past four years — by more than 1 million altogether. That’s enough to offset the slight growth in the non-Hispanic white population during the first six years of the decade.

Demographers say the nation’s white population growth has slowed in recent decades, largely because of falling fertility rates as Americans wait longer to have kids and have fewer of them.

Among the other findings about the population in the last decade:

  • Fewer states, metro areas and counties had rapid population growth.
  • Population decline was widespread across the nation, with more than half of the most counties losing population.
  • On average, smaller counties tended to lose population, and more populous counties tended to grow.
  • Population growth was almost entirely in metro areas, which grew by 8.7 percent.
  • All 10 of the country’s most populous cities grew this decade, and Jacksonville was the only Florida city that was among that group with population gains of at least 50,000.

The Census reported that the resident population of the United States, including the 50 states and the District of Columbia, was 331 million as of April 1, 2020, an increase of 7.4 percent since the 2010 Census.

Florida remains the third most populous largest state with 21.5 million residents, compared to 39.5 million residents in California and 29.1 million residents in Texas. New York is fourth, with 20.2 million residents counted.

Florida is also third in the nation in the number of overseas population, including military or civilian employees of the U.S. government who were stationed or assigned outside the U.S.