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March 28, 2001

Florida Has More Hispanics Than Blacks, Census Shows


MIAMI, March 27 - Leading a shift in the ethnic and racial makeup of the country, Florida now has more Hispanic residents than blacks, 2000 census data released today show.

A million more Hispanics moved to Florida in the last decade, causing a surge in the statewide population that will enable the state to gain two Congressional seats.

"This is higher growth than we thought we'd be having," said Lance DeHaven-Smith, associate director of the Florida Institute of Government at Florida State University. Florida's overall population grew by three million residents, or 23.5 percent in the 1990's, census data show.

Also surprising was the fact that the Hispanic population had spread throughout the state and was no longer concentrated in the south. Statewide, the Hispanic population grew by about 63 percent to 2.7 million people. Hispanics now account for 16.8 percent of Florida residents.

The growth among Hispanics here is being driven not just by a surge in Cuban-Americans but also by people from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and other Latin American countries.

Considering plentiful service jobs, proximity to their countries of origin and government services that support immigrants, the growth of the Hispanic population in Florida is understandable.

"Because Spanish is spoken so often here, it draws individuals and investors from Latin American countries here," said Katherine Condon, demographer and research associate at Florida International University. "They feel comfortable coming to Florida because they can speak their own language."

In addition to giving Florida more political power in Washington, the growth in the Hispanic population also promises to affect politics, public education, the labor force and the economy.

"The diversity among Hispanics is certainly growing," Ms. Condon said.

And along with it, Hispanics' political influence should grow, too, and not just in Miami, which has a politically powerful, well-established Cuban-American population.

"Because Cubans have gotten into the political and economic structure, then other groups of Hispanics can use that to get their foot in the door," Ms. Condon said.

The state's most populous county, Miami-Dade, grew by 16 percent, to 2.3 million people. The number of Hispanics there, meanwhile, grew by 338,330 people, or 35.5 percent.

Black Floridians, demographers said, risk being overshadowed as the third-largest segment of the state's population. The percentage of blacks in Florida increased to 14.4 percent, from 13.3 percent in the last decade. The new data show that 2.3 million blacks live in Florida.

The comparison of census data uses an adjusted figure for 1990 that was revised to include estimated undercounted residents. The 2000 census is considered more accurate and was not adjusted.

Though the data released yesterday did not include a breakdown by age of the state's residents, the growth among non-Hispanics can almost certainly be attributed to an increase in retirees, demographers said.

"They keep coming for the dream as much as anything else," said Mr. DeHaven-Smith of the Florida Institute of Government at Florida State. "That dream is warm weather, flowered shirts, outside life on the beach. And that has become part of our culture."

He said growth in some counties in central and northern Florida reflected both the spreading out of the state's Hispanic population and retirement-age citizens looking to move farther from urban centers. The trend began in Miami and is continuing in places like Orlando and Tampa.

"We have watched this population move literally up the coast," Mr. DeHaven-Smith said. "In the 1970's, Miami was a Jewish retirement community. This is the exact same place that was little brown Jewish women laying in the sun. Today it is Hispanic women on Roller Blades."

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