GAINESVILLE (AP) - Florida's growth has slowed to its lowest level in more than 60 years, and the rate is expected to steadily decline through 2040 although the state again was a national leader in population gain over the past decade, according to a study released Monday.
The University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research analyzed U.S. Census figures that show the state's permanent population increased by more than 2.8 million, or 17.6 percent, to 18.8 million between 2000 and 2010.
That was the third-largest increase overall and eighth-biggest on a percentage basis among the states, but Florida's growth rate dropped significantly during the last few years of the decade.
Stan Smith, the bureau's director, blamed Florida's housing bust and other economic woes.
"Jobs are a major reason people come to Florida, but Florida lost about 1 million jobs from 2007 to 2010," Smith said in a news release. "As the economy recovers, population growth will increase as well."
It just won't increase as much as it has in the past.
Florida had annual population increases that averaged between 280,000 and 320,000 from 1970 through last year.
The study projects an annual growth rate of 252,000 during the current decade and 255,000 between 2020 and 2030, but it's expected to decline to 220,000 during the following 10 years.
Florida posted some of its biggest population increases of the past decade from 2003 through 2006 as the housing market boomed and the economy expanded, Smith said.
"As economic growth slowed and the housing market cooled later in the decade, population growth declined as well," he said. "The collapse of the housing market and the lingering effects of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s are likely to keep the state's population growth at relatively low levels for another year or two."
Growth should return to levels more in line with historic patterns by the middle of this decade, but it won't be uniform across the state, Smith said. He noted growth rates over the past 10 years differed from county to county.
All except two of Florida's 67 counties gained population during the past decade. Monroe County dropped by 6,499 to 73,090 and Pinellas County was down 4,953 to 916,542.
Much of Monroe, which includes the Florida Keys, is marshland that cannot be developed, while Pinellas is nearly built out, Smith said.
Four counties grew by more than 50 percent, while 20 counties grew by more than 20 percent.
Orange County had the largest increase of 249,612 to top out at nearly 1.15 million. Miami-Dade County was up 242,656 to nearly 2.5 million, while Hillsborough County increased by 230,278 to about 1.2 million.
Flagler and Sumter counties had the fastest growth rates. Flagler nearly doubled its population from 49,832 to 95,695 while Sumter's increased from 53,345 to 93,420.
Smith credited the popularity of two planned communities, Palm Coast in Flagler and The Villages in Sumter.