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Florida economists cite COVID-19 in shaving projected population growth

A sign welcomes visitors to Florida.

(The Center Square) – The subprime mortgage scandal that fostered the 2007 global financial crisis and ensuing Great Recession dashed a long-standing assumption by many local governments in Florida that annual property appraisals always would capture valuation boosts to keep municipal coffers in the black without raising millage rates.

The COVID-19 pandemic now may be throwing cold water, at least temporarily, on another long-standing assumption by state and local planners: Florida’s population will continue to grow at an increasingly accelerating pace.

The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC), a panel of state economists expected to present Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers revised state revenue estimates Aug. 14, last week issued a revised forecast that modestly scales back population projections for the next five years.

The REC projected last summer the state’s population would increase from 21.57 million in 2020 to 22.93 million as of April 1, 2025, with annual growth averaging 271,330 new residents a year, or 743 each day.

In December, the panel forecast that growth was expected to average 326,103 new residents a year, approximately 893 a day, from April 1, 2019, to April 1, 2024.

The projected increases were “analogous to adding a city slightly larger than Orlando every year.”

The December forecast also estimated the state’s population on April 1, 2024, would total 22,839,102 people. The new forecast puts it at 22,671,115.

The revised Demographic Estimating Conference trims 200,139 new arrivals from its 2025 estimate.

The report said the COVID-19 pandemic would have other demographic effects, such as increased household sizes.

“The worldwide pandemic and its accompanying economic fallout has strongly colored this forecast, producing slower population growth throughout the near-term forecast,” the report’s executive summary said. “In addition, average household size was increased, reflecting the economic impact the pandemic is expected to have on household dynamics and structure; all else being equal, larger household sizes lead to a lower number of households.”

The updated forecast projects Florida will have 21,830,364 people on April 1, 2021; 22,119,075 people on April 1, 2022; 22,400,685 people on April 1, 2023; 22,671,115 people on April 1, 2024; and 22,930,731 people on April 1, 2025.

The report notes projections developed by the U.S. Census Bureau “continue to be higher than the official state estimates adopted by the Demographic Estimating Conference.”

In July 2019, the Census Bureau said Florida had 169,575 more people than the state said it had.

The difference is significant because the current Census is expected to add two new congressional districts in Florida, giving it at least 29 U.S. House reps in 2022.

According to Virginia-based political consulting firm Election Data Services, however, the state is an estimated 172,000 people away from adding a third new congressional district.

The state estimates there was a 200,670-person undercount in the 2000 Census that cost Florida about $225 million annually, or more than $2.5 billion over the decade.

Other estimates claim Florida’s 2010 Census undercount was 1.3 million, resulting in more than $14.6 billion in “returned tax money” for state and local governments over the decade.

“The Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research is continuing its efforts to identify how the differing underlying methodologies contribute to the gap between the two sets of estimates,” the report stated. “In addition, after the 2020 Census counts are released, the historical series will be re‐estimated to take this new data point into consideration.”

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