Florida has surpassed New York as the third most populous state in the United States, a milestone that solidifies the Sun Belt’s growing dominance and continues a powerful demographic trend that has shaped much of the nation’s population growth for more than 60 years.
Now, the nation’s three largest states are in the South and West — California (38.8 million), Texas (27 million) and Florida (19.9 million) — according to July 1, 2014 population estimate released Tuesday by the Census Bureau.
In an ironic twist, Florida has New York partly to thank for its steady growth. More people move to Florida from New York than from any other state.
It’s good news for the Sunshine State, which suffered net migration loss from 2007 to 2009 at the peak of the Great Recession — when more people left the state than moved in.
“I don’t think rankings per se mean a lot,” said Stanley Smith, a demographer in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida. “But I think it’s a very important signal. It’s a milestone for Florida in that it reflects many years of rapid growth.”
One hundred years ago, Florida was the smallest state in the South.
“This puts an exclamation point on the Sun Belt growth of the last half century,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution and author of the book “Diversity Explosion.”
The new estimates show population shifts from the North to all corners of the South and West. North Carolina (9.94 million) moved past Michigan (9.9 million) into the ninth spot and Georgia, eighth-largest, just hit the 10 million mark for the first time.
“We’re a country that, over our course of history, moved from an East Coast country to a West Coast country,” Frey said. “Now, we’re dominated by the South and West.”
The nation’s population growth continues to stay below 1 percent annual growth, and this year was at its lowest since 1937, Frey said. It added 2.4 million people for a total of 318.9 million, a 0.75 percent increase from 2013.
North Dakota’s oil boom continues to push its population growth. It was the fastest-growing state, with a 2.2 percent surge to almost 740,000 people. Nevada, Texas, Colorado and the District of Columbia also are among the other top population gainers.
New Mexico is the only state that lost people in the past year that is not in the North or Midwest: Illinois, West Virginia, Connecticut, Alaska and Vermont. In Maine, more people died than were born for the second year in a row, a reflection of the state’s aging population and continued loss of its young people to other states.
Population shifts across states are significant not only because they reflect a state’s economic vitality but because they influence political power. Every 10 years, the number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives is allocated based on its population. Thus, a declining population can mean a state — or a region — loses its political influence over time.