Census: Florida Set to Overtake New York As Third-Most Populous State

Just this week, we learned that the Sunshine State has more tanning beds than McDonald's and CVS stores (and comes in second for highest skin cancer rates). Now, according to Census figures released Monday, Florida is also just 100,000 people away from overtaking New York to become the third-most populous state in America. Why? Partly because New Yorkers are leaving their state to become Florida's largest single group of new residents (and it's not just old folks).

"The actual ranking is of little consequence. What's more important are the underlying trends, namely that Florida has been growing substantially faster than New York for many decades," said Stanley Smith, program director for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

Florida is one of the fastest-growing states in general, actually, and it's partly because of the job opportunities. Most people moving in are established, middle-aged adults who are coming for the skilled jobs that don't involve dealing with tourists (although lower-skilled jobs and tourism are still big hirers). On the other hand, manufacturing jobs have disappeared in much of upstate New York, forcing residents elsewhere to look for work. Florida's population is now growing at three times the rate of New York. (California still remains the most populous state with 33.8 million residents.)

"Medical services, biotechnology, financial services, these are higher paying jobs and those have also been growing in Florida," Smith said.

Foreign immigrants, particularly Latinos, are also significant in the state's population growth —Latinos alone make up 22 percent of new residents. And let's not forget the older crowd: retirement-age folks make up 17 percent of the population, but that's expected to jump to 21 percent by 2020, according to Smith.

However, it's not Florida's biggest growth spurt — far from it:

Kenneth Johnson, a University of New Hampshire demographer, noted that Florida's population gain of 232,000 people is about even with that of the past two years but "still smaller than that during the 2000s, when Florida gained an average of 282,000 annually." Migration is key to maintaining Florida's population growth, he says, because the difference each year between births and deaths there is small.

According to the latest Census numbers, however, Florida is an exception to the 50-state rule: American population growth in general has slowed, contrary to the predictions of experts who thought that steps toward economic recovery would result in a little higher growth. The nation's up 2.7 percent since last year, clocking in with 316 million people.

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