Nation & World

Foreign-born population dips in South Florida

The immigration-fueled population engine that for decades has powered Miami-Dade County's growth is sputtering, new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau suggest.

The county's population, which in recent years had grown by as much as 20,000 annually, stood at just below 2.4 million in 2008, effectively little changed since 2006, according to data from the annual American Community Survey, which will be released Tuesday.

During that period, the number of Miami-Dade's foreign-born residents dipped, driving down the foreign-born proportion of the county's population from just above 50 percent in 2007 to just below that in 2008, the last year for which survey data is available.

The number of foreign-born residents also fell somewhat in Broward County, which has also experienced a drop of about 35,000 in its overall population since 2006, according to the survey.

Nationally, while the country's population continues growing, the proportion of foreign-born U.S. residents -- both legal and not -- also declined slightly, by one-tenth of 1 percent. The country's immigrant population in 2008 stood at just below 38 million, or 12.5 percent of the total U.S. population, the survey found.

The trend in the immigrant population, which had increased rapidly when the nation's economy was booming, supports anecdotal evidence that immigration into the country has slowed significantly -- and perhaps gone into reverse. Several recent studies have suggested that many immigrants, in particular those without legal status or secure jobs, have gone home.

"It's too early to tell whether it's the start of a trend or a one-time thing related to the reces-sion," said Scott Boggess, an American Community Survey statistician.

While small, the dip in Miami-Dade's foreign-born population represents a marked reversal of long-standing, pre-recession trends that trans-formed the county from a haven for U.S. retirees. The county's explosive population growth was fed primarily by immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean, in particular Cuba, as more native-born Americans left the county than moved into it.

But the slowdown in immigration, should it persist, could have significant implications for Miami-Dade's economy, which has been driven in large part by residential and commercial real estate development dependent on population growth.

While Broward has not been the immigration magnet Miami-Dade has been, its foreign-born residents made up a significant 30.4 percent of the county population in 2007 before falling back to 29.6 in 2008. A substantial number of the county's foreign-born residents are immigrants who moved to Broward's suburbs from Miami-Dade. Many English-speaking Caribbean immigrants have also settled directly in Broward.

The estimates show a small decline for Florida's foreign-born population, from slightly more than 3.4 million in 2007 to just under that number in 2008 -- though immigrants remained essentially flat as a proportion of the total state population.

Because the ACS data is from 2008, it doesn't reflect an overall drop in the state population that a recent University of Florida study concluded occurred between 2008 and 2009.

But the decline in immigrants was not uniform across Florida, noted Dario Gonzalez, a demographer at Florida International University's Metropolitan Center.

"Some smaller counties are continuing to get increases in the foreign-born," Gonzalez said, pointing to Polk, Volusia and Lake counties in Central Florida.

An analysis of the data by the Associated Press shows that about half of U.S. states showed declines in immigrant popula-tions from 2007 to 2008. Some major metro areas also posted decreases, including Los Ange-les, Phoenix, Detroit and Tampa, the AP found.

The ACS, which is based on Census Bureau surveys of about 250,000 households per month, has taken the place of long-form survey in the decennial census, which asked detailed economic and social questions. The survey estimates, which cover a gamut of demographic and social char-acteristics, will be available on the U.S. Census website,, starting Tues-day.

ACS survey data on family income and poverty will be released next week because of a data-processing glitch that delayed its release with the other information.