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South Florida’s population growth slowed sharply last year as deaths surged and people moved away, Census data shows

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 5/6/2021 Aric Chokey, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
chart, line chart: South Florida saw a dramatic drop in its population growth rates in 2020. © Provided by Sun Sentinel South Florida saw a dramatic drop in its population growth rates in 2020.

South Florida saw dramatic changes to its population trends in 2020 as COVID-19 led to more deaths than births and more people moved out of the area, according to annual data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The swing was most stark in Miami-Dade County, which saw its population decrease for the first time in at least a decade.

The figures come as part of the Census’s annual vintage population estimates, which calculate population based on deaths, births and net migration since the 2010 Census. The estimates are separate from the 2020 Census, the once-per-decade survey conducted last year.

While Miami-Dade, like South Florida’s other two counties, had seen its population growth slowing in recent years, in 2020 it joined several northern counties that saw negative growth in 2020. It’s the first time Miami-Dade’s population shrunk since at least the last Census in 2010.

Census estimates show Miami-Dade County lost 4,309 residents compared to 2019. Broward and Palm Beach counties both saw their populations grow by less than one percent.

More deaths than births in 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Florida saw a year of more deaths than births, the data shows. “Natural growth” is a Census figure that shows the net change in population only from births and deaths, ignoring the number of people who move in or out of an area. A negative rate of natural growth means more people died than babies born.

Florida had reported more than 3,500 deaths from COVID-19 by July 1, 2020, which is the end date of the Census’s data spans.

Florida’s natural growth had been trending downward for years, but deaths outpaced births in 2020 for the first time in at least 10 years. Palm Beach County also saw negative natural growth.

“That big increase in deaths, that’s clearly pandemic-related,” said Stefan Rayer, director for the population program at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “2020 for the Census Bureau was a unique year.”

Rayer’s department also publishes its own annual population estimates and projections for the state based on metrics such as the number of existing electricity utility customers, building permits and homestead exemptions. Rayer said their projections have shown somewhat higher population growth rates compared to the Census.

More people fled South Florida

Historically, migration has been a significant source of growth for Florida, Rayer said, and could be another factor affecting South Florida’s population slowdown.

The stifling of international migration due to lockdowns pushed net migration into the negatives for Broward and Miami-Dade counties, the data shows.

Domestic migration — people moving into an area from elsewhere in the state or country — has been negative in Miami-Dade and Broward counties for the past several years, but international migration has historically helped balance that.

“There’s been so much talk of people moving to Florida that the expectation for us is that domestic migration has stayed the same or picked up,” Rayer said. “For international migration, we see a decrease just because the country was closed for the pandemic.”

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