For decades, Americans looking to retire or to get a fresh start have fueled massive population growth in South Florida. But that long-standing trend might be coming to an end, according to new Census estimates analyzed by university researchers in Miami.
And sky-high housing costs are likely to blame.
That doesn’t mean growth for the sprawling region is stalling. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach megalopolis has been one of the 10 fastest-growing metro areas in the country by sheer numbers since the last full Census in 2010, outstripping the Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Phoenix metro growth machines, said Florida International University researchers who crunched population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
But what’s shifted dramatically is the source of South Florida’s population growth over that period, said Maria Ilcheva, senior researcher at FIU’s Metropolitan Center.
South Florida’s boom was once fueled by a combination of foreign immigrants and people moving in from elsewhere in the U.S., plus births. But now the region’s growth is principally driven by people settling here from other countries, chiefly Latin American nations.
South Florida has seen a complete reversal in what demographers call net domestic migration since about 2013, an infographic prepared by the Metropolitan Center shows.
In the past, more people moved to the region from elsewhere in America than moved out. Now, the opposite is true.
Today, far more people are moving out of South Florida than moving in from other parts of the country, and by margins that are growing every year, the analysis shows. Net domestic migration has plummeted by a startling 2,670 percent since 2010 — and that number is not a typo, Ilcheva stressed.
Miami-Dade County accounts for much of that drop, Ilcheva’s numbers show. Since 2010, the county has seen a net outflow of 106,591 residents to other parts of the country.
2,670 % Drop in the net number of Americans moving to South Florida
Meanwhile, net international migration to the region has increased 397 percent over the same period, she found, more than making up for the domestic losses. While Broward and Palm Beach counties each still show net domestic migration gains, foreign immigration into Broward outpaced domestic arrivals by a significant net margin of 57,000 people.
“We have people coming here from other countries to invest and to migrate for other reasons,” Ilcheva said. “On the other hand, the locals are looking for exit strategies.”
Goodbye to all that
Why are so many leaving?
The numbers don’t say, but Ilcheva believes it’s likely because of a combination of economic factors: namely, the sharp post-recession rise in housing costs, and stagnant wages that make it difficult for increasing numbers of South Floridians to afford decent housing. That’s especially acute, she said, in Miami-Dade.
“There are two obvious reasons in our county: wages are lower than in the rest of the country, and the unaffordability of housing and the cost of living,” Ilcheva said. “You can’t completely divorce these two factors.”
One prominent local housing analyst said FIU’s analysis seems on the mark. Condo market analyst Peter Zalewski said Miami’s high-rises, restaurants and a burgeoning arts scene have put the city on the path to becoming a cosmopolitan hub in the style of London, Hong Kong or Singapore. But all that is putting an economic squeeze on locals, he said.
I don’t think there’s any question this all has to do with housing.
“I don’t think there’s any question this all has to do with housing,” Zalewski said of FIU’s findings. “The cost of housing in Miami has become unbearable [for many locals].”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that no one’s moving here from elsewhere in the country. Palm Beach saw a still-healthy net 12,473 people settle there from other places in the U.S. in 2016, the FIU analysis shows.
That number, combined with 8,443 immigrants, put Palm Beach among the 10 U.S. counties with the highest numbers of people settling in from elsewhere last year. And many of those new settlers are Hispanic, other Census estimates suggest, Ilcheva said. Palm Beach had the most significant growth in Hispanic population in South Florida between 2000 and 2015, she said.
Miami-Dade bled 30,560 locals even as 41,830 immigrants moved in last year, for a net growth of 11,270. In Broward County, the net 14,844 international migrants moving in far outstripped a small net domestic gain of 1,357 people, the study shows.
Some further number crunching by Ilcheva suggests who is leaving: In Miami-Dade and Broward, the white non-Hispanic population dropped by 16.6 percent and 22.3 percent between 2000 and 2015, respectively. The share of the African-American population was stable, she said.
The FIU analysis ties in with a growing body of research that ranks Miami as one of the least-affordable housing markets in the country, in large part because prices have been driven up by foreign investors even as wages have barely budged.
A 2016 report by New York University’s Furman Center and CapitalOne found that workers in most metro areas with high rents benefit from high incomes. That’s not the case in South Florida, which the authors called “a troubling exception — a high-cost city without high incomes.”
In the U.S., only residents of Honolulu and California’s biggest cities suffer from a larger gap between home prices and wages, according to the 2016 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.
$321,000 Median price of a single-family home in Miami-Dade
Bidding wars for the shrinking pool of affordably priced homes on the market pose another burden for locals. Over the past two years, the number of single-family homes for sale between $250,000 and $600,000 has fallen roughly 18 percent, according to the Keyes Company, a local real estate brokerage.
As a result, business leaders fear their companies are losing out on talent to cheaper housing markets.
The problem is especially severe for the region’s young workers, who can’t rely on the extensive public transit options available in other cities. Real estate website Trulia found that fewer than one in 100 apartments on the market in South Florida are affordable for recent college graduates.
Miami-Dade’s median household income, meanwhile, has essentially stayed flat since 2011, hovering just below $44,000, Census figures show. But over the same period local home prices have jumped 59 percent, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index.
Foreign buyers brought back Miami’s housing market from the dead after the recession, filling local government coffers with property taxes. Now the boom may have gone too far.
The housing crunch might be starting to affect overall population growth locally. The new Census estimates, based on survey data, suggest overall growth could be slowing. Miami-Dade did not turn up on the Census Bureau’s list of fastest-growing counties in 2016.
Maricopa County in Arizona, home to Phoenix, replaced Harris County in Texas, which includes Houston, as the county with the nation’s highest numerical population growth, the Census Bureau said. The chief source of growth for the retirement haven of Maricopa, according to the Census Bureau: Domestic migration.
A previous version of this story incorrectly described the findings of the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.