Population growth likely to push Florida past New York, experts say

Published Jan. 7, 2013

It was startling news for a state that gains about 3 million residents each decade.

As the recession dug deep in 2007, more people were leaving than entering Florida.

Now, with the economy showing signs of life, people are flocking back to the Sunshine State.

Last month, the U.S. Census reported that Florida currently has the third-largest population growth of any state.

Last year, Atlas Van Lines reported Florida had 4,973 moves into the state, compared to 4,641 moves out.

And several demographers predict that within two or three years Florida could eclipse New York as the third most populous state in the country.

The impact of such growth is both diverse and difficult to measure. But for the most part, says University of Florida demographer Stanley Smith, population rank is a competition among states.

"It's sort of bragging rights," he said.

• • •

Population trends in Florida and New York are closely linked.

From 2000 to 2010, more than 600,000 people moved from New York to Florida, according to the Tax Foundation.

As the recession hit, many people stopped moving from state to state, Smith said.

"When Florida was slowing down tremendously, New York was not declining much in terms of its rate of growth and perhaps even going up a bit," said Smith, director of the Population Program at UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Moving companies reported more people migrating out of Florida in 2006.

But when the recession ended, the numbers fluctuated again. Florida's growth increased and New York's declined.

By the close of 2010, Florida had gained about 3 million new residents in the preceding decade, while New York gained about 400,000. That put Florida's population at about 18.8 million, and New York's at approximately 19.3 million.

Among those leaving New York for Florida was Anne Grabill, 27.

A native Floridian, Grabill long had dreamed of living in New York City.

Nearly seven years ago, she moved from St. Petersburg to New York City.

Rent was sky-high, the weather gloomy, the subway cramped.

Last year, she moved back to St. Petersburg and now travels once a month to New York City for her job in a beauty product company.

"I think it's always been that city that if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere," Grabill said. "I did it, and there's nothing left for me there."

• • •

Warm weather, sun, and beaches long have been the primary magnets drawing people to Florida.

"It's quality of life you can't find in New York," said Claudia Flores, who moved from New York City to Tampa in 2009. "It's like waking up every day in paradise."

But tropical temperatures are not the only factor.

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Housing also is a key, experts say. As the country continues to recover from the recession, the housing market in Florida has remained favorable to buyers.

Taxes also play a role.

"It's not the only cost that they'll consider," said Tax Foundation economist Scott Drenkard. "But taxes do matter."

Florida does not have an individual income tax, and its property taxes rank in the middle among all states. Overall, the state ranked fifth in the country for best taxes, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C.

"Not all tax systems are created equal," economists wrote in the foundation's latest report. "States' stiffest and most direct competition often comes from other states."

In addition, retirees continue to move to Florida, with many settling near the coastlines, said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.

"The baby boomers are not getting younger. It's still cold up north," Snaith said. "And so these factors I think feed into it."

• • •

The last state Florida passed in population was Pennsylvania in 1987, according to the U.S. Census.

If Florida passes New York, it will not directly cause much change.

The shift in population could add more U.S. House seats for Florida. In 2010, when the state's population increased to 18.8 million, Florida gained two more seats.

Growth also could help fuel the economy.

"Florida's economy was a jumbo jet," Snaith said. "Population growth has been one of the engines that has helped propel it along."

Laura C. Morel can be reached at or (727)893-8713.


CORRECTION: Anne Grabill, 27, moved back to St. Petersburg last year after several years in New York City. Her last name was misspelled in earlier versions of this story in print and online.