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Florida soon to pass New York state in population

January 3, 2014

ORLANDO, Florida (AP) — Sometime this year, Florida will surpass New York in population, becoming the third-most populous state in the U.S. behind California and Texas.

The milestone is validation of the sometimes messy but increasing influence of the Sunshine State as it approaches being home to 20 million residents.

“Florida is kind of an icon of the 21st century in terms of the shifting population and the growing role Latin America is playing in transforming the country,” said James Johnson, a business professor at the University of North Carolina. “I think it’s going to be for the 21st century what California or New York was for the 20th century.”

Florida encompasses many trends in America: an aging population, a service-oriented economy with many low-wage jobs and an ethnic diversity propelled by Hispanic growth. Like the United States, Florida is a haven for migrants and people making fresh starts.

The state’s 29 electoral votes are the nation’s most coveted in presidential elections, since Florida is the largest state that doesn’t reliably vote for one party or another.

New Floridians, such as 47-year-old Michael Richards, list reasons for moving here: the weather, no state income tax, the availability of low-skill jobs and proximity to Latin America and Europe.

“You put up with three months of hell (in the summer) for nine months of great weather,” said Richards.

Although Florida has the nation’s largest share of residents over age 65, seniors account for less than 10 percent of new residents in the last several years. Instead, more than half of the new arrivals are between 25 and 64, according to an AP analysis of data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey. Almost two-fifths of them were under age 25.

New York isn’t shrinking in population. Florida’s growth is outpacing it by a 3-to-1 ratio. More than 537,000 residents moved to Florida last year, and around a tenth of them came from New York State. As of last July, the two states were separated by about 98,000 people: New York had 19.6 million residents and Florida had 19.5 million residents, according to Census figures released earlier this week.

Migrants from Latin America dominated the newly arrived Floridians who came from outside the United States. Nondomestic migrants represented a quarter of the state’s new arrivals last year. The largest flow of migrants was from the Caribbean to South Florida, particularly the Miami area, according to the AP analysis.

Florida’s mean annual wage of $41,000 is less than California’s $52,300, New York’s $53,500 or Texas’ $44,000, but some new Florida residents see benefits to working in a fluid, low-wage economy.

In the national imagination, Florida has been a tropical paradise.

But Florida has also become a bit of a tarnished Eden, which experts argue traded in the charms of its natural beauty for the addictions of development and growth.

The state’s primary source of water comes from the Florida Aquifer, which is replenished from rainfall seeping into the ground. The more Florida is paved over with driveways, parking lots and structures, the less water seeps into the Aquifer.

The state’s economy — largely reliant on tourism and housing — is still reeling in some places from the Great Recession and needs further diversification. There have been pockets of success: Orlando developed a thriving computer simulation industry and is working on building a medical science community. Miami has aspirations to be a Latin American hub of high-tech companies.

Bruce Stephenson, an environmental studies professor at Rollins College outside Orlando, is optimistic that Florida has learned some lessons from the housing boom and bust.

“People come to Florida, say, ‘What an amazing life,’ buy into the dream and then the dream collapses, and yet we go on,” said Stephenson. “Because it’s such a new state, you can try different things.”

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mikeschneiderap

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