Florida Keys News
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Florida Keys' population shrinks as Florida grows

FLORIDA KEYS -- As the rest of Florida grew over the last decade, the number of Monroe County residents shrank.

According to recently released Census 2010 figures, Monroe's population was 73,090 in 2010, down 8.2 percent from 79,589 in 2000.

The numbers contrast with the statewide trend, which saw Florida's population grow 15 percent, from 15.98 million to 18.8 million, over the same period.

Monroe was one of just two Florida counties to lose people over the past decade, and the other, St. Petersburg's Pinellas County, contracted by just 0.5 percent.

The Keys strict building regulations, cost of living and small number of high-paying jobs are the reasons for the decline, analysts have long said.

The diminished population likely will mean a smaller share of federal dollars for the Keys. Each year Washington distributes more than $400 billion to states, counties and cities based upon the census count. The money goes to everything from Medicaid to roads and schools.

"Anything that is going to come out of the federal government, the VA or whatever, comes out of the census," County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy said.

Aside from dollars and cents, the census is also used to redraw congressional and legislative districts. With Florida growing and the Monroe County shrinking, the lone state House of Representatives seat that has traditionally belonged to the Keys could be at risk.

In 2000, Florida House districts averaged 133,000 people. The Keys shares its district with portions of south Miami-Dade County. Ten years ago the Keys population of nearly 80,000 was enough to leave the Conch Republic with 60 percent of the district.

But due to Florida's growing population, House districts are expected to increase in size to approximately 165,000 people before the 2012 election. If that happens, the Keys population of 73,000 would comprise less than half of the new district.

"I can't find a time in Florida where Monroe County did not have someone in the Legislature," said state Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West. "With this new census and the population it's a greater possibility that someone from Miami-Dade County will win the seat."

Like the rest of the archipelago, Upper Keys communities lost people over the past decade.

Key Largo's population took the biggest hit, dropping more than 12 percent, from 11,886 to 10,433, according to the Census Bureau. Islamorada lost 10.6 percent of its residents as the population of the village's four islands shrank from 6,846 to 6,119. In Tavernier, the drop was barely noticeable, from 2,173 residents to 2,136.

However, North Key Largo, which mainly comprises the private Ocean Reef community, grew 18 percent, from 1,049 residents to 1,244.

As in other parts of the country, the past decade saw an influx of Latinos to the Keys. Countywide, Latinos comprise 20.6 percent of the population, up from 15.8 percent in 2000.

In Key Largo, where 23.7 percent of the residents are Latino, the population increased from 1,979 to 2,471. Islamorada has 589 Latinos, up from 460 in 2000.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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