Credit the weather. Blame the New Yorkers.
Whatever your perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday what many believed to be inevitable: Florida approached 20 million residents this year and surpassed the Empire State as the nation’s third most populous state. The agency reported that an average of 803 new residents arrived daily to the state in the past year.
According to the census estimate, Florida’s population in 2014 hit almost 19.9 million, thanks to a growth of 1.49 percent from July 2013-July 2014. That rate was matched by only four other states and the District of Columbia, and added up to 293,000 new Floridians — the kind of surge that fills empty condos but also packs already congested highways.
The population influx pushed Florida’s total population past New York’s 19.7 million and handed bragging rights to a state with a region (South Florida) sometimes referred to as the “sixth borough.”
“Today’s news of Florida officially becoming the third most populous state is exciting,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott crowed in a statement Tuesday. “I look forward to more people and more job creators moving to Florida in the near future.”
Scott has often appeared on national cable television news programs telling people to move to Florida. New York was also one of the states in which Scott wrote open letters to business owners in 2012 and 2013 touting the economic benefits of Florida.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce added its own two cents: “People have been comparing apples and oranges for a long time,” the business group said on its website. “Now they’re choosing oranges, and calling Florida home.”
The news adds fire to the neighborly debate over which is bigger and better: Florida or New York? But in reality, demographers say, taking the third spot in the country’s population hierarchy is mostly symbolic. While congressional seats and federal grants are based on population, no one is handing out medals or dollars for taking third place in a population contest.
“It matters that Florida has 20 million people, but whether it’s number four or three, I don’t think matters much,” said Stanley Smith, a research demographer in the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, who notes that population growth matters more because it remains the major driver of the state’s economic growth.
“When you put more people into a region, that region’s economy is going to grow by default,” said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness. He said the balmy weather and no state income tax remain key factors contributing to the state’s attractiveness.
An Associated Press analysis earlier this year showed that ex-New Yorkers represented about 1 in 10 new Florida residents. Migrants from other countries made up about a quarter of Florida’s new residents.
Overall, Florida’s growth can be viewed as part of a shift in growth and political power to the south and southwest, said Andrew A. Beveridge, a professor of Sociology at Queens College.
“If you project out to 2020, it could lead to another [congressional] seat for Florida and a loss for New York,” Beveridge said. “This does portend the continued Southeast, Southwestern power shift, which has been going on pretty much since the 1950s.”
Indeed, in 1910, New York had 43 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives; Florida had four. Today, both states have 27 seats.
Beveridge said it’s unlikely New York, which relies on immigration to keep its population from dropping, would ever take back its bronze standing.
“I guess they forgot about all the hurricanes,” he said.
Florida has a way to go before it catches up with California and Texas, the largest and second largest states. California has 38.8 million residents; Texas has 27 million residents.
The other states rounding out the 10 largest in the nation are: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina and Michigan. North Carolina slipped by Michigan for the ninth spot on the list.
Six states saw population declines: Illinois, West Virginia, Connecticut, New Mexico, Alaska and Vermont.
Fueled by an energy boom, North Dakota was the fastest-growing state in the nation, even though it is still the fourth least-populous state in the union. Its population increased 2.2 percent and now stands at 739,000. The other fastest-growing states from 2013 to 2014 were Nevada and Texas, which both had population increases of 1.7 percent.
This report was supplemented by content from the News Service of Florida and Associated Press.