March 17, 2011 | The Miami Herald | Original Article

Share of Latinos in Fla. up by 60 percent

The share of Hispanics living in Florida grew by almost 60 percent over the past decade as the percentage of white residents declined slightly and the proportion of blacks and Asians inched up, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census.

Hispanics now make up 22.5 percent of Florida's 18.8 million residents, up from 16.7 percent of Floridians in 2000, when the state only had 15.9 million residents, the Census data showed.

"Were it not for the Hispanics, whether it has to do with fertility, immigration, in-migration from other states, or some combination of all three, Florida would be in much worse shape demographically, " said William Frey, a demographer with the Brooking Institution Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington. "Florida has traditionally been a haven for everybody, especially white northeasterners and Midwesterners."

That isn't so much the case now as it has been in the past. The share of whites moving to Florida last decade was smaller than it was in the previous decade, Frey said.

Non-Hispanic whites now make up 57.8 percent of Florida's population in 2010, down from 66 percent of the population in 2000. Their numbers grew by just under a half -million residents to 10.8 million people, the Census showed.

The non-Hispanic black population grew by more than 586,000 residents, so that they now make up 15.2 percent of the population, up from 14.1 percent of the population in 2000.

Asians now make up 2.4 percent of Florida's residents, or more than 454,000 people, up from 1.6 percent in 2000.

Florida's overall population increased by 2.8 million from 2000 to 2010. The decade was powered by rapid growth in the first half but it ended with tepid migration to the state, a result of a housing bust and the recession. The growth, however, was in the same ballpark as the 3 million to 3.2 million person increase seen in the previous three decades, said Stan Smith, an economics professor at the University of Florida.

"That might be surprising to people," Smith said. "Because of the tremendous slowdown of the last couple of years, that causes them to forget the very high growth that we saw in the early and middle part of the decade. When you add that together, you get a decade that really isn't too much different in terms of population growth."

The counties with the greatest growth over the decade were Flagler and Sumter counties in north and central Florida. Sumter County's growth was powered by The Villages retirement community and the growth of Palm Coast powered Flagler County's growth, Smith said.

Monroe County, home to the Florida Keys, and Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg, were the only Florida counties that experienced small declines. The lack of available land for development and the high cost of housing likely drove the drop in Monroe County's population, while an aging population whose births failed to replace its deaths likely contributed to the decline in Pinellas County, Smith said.