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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 14, 2014

Florida surpassed New York in population, Bill Nelson says

Hurricane-prone Florida is a populous state that needs a robust National Guard, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., argued during a Senate Armed Services committee hearing about National Guard cuts.

Under the Budget Control Act, the Florida National Guard which currently has about 12,000 troops could lose up to 1,000 soldiers and airmen if cuts are distributed evenly across the states. The cuts could start in 2015.

As Nelson talked about the need for Guard troops in states that face hurricanes, he snuck in a smidgen of one upmanship over New York.

"My state of Florida is now the third-largest state," Nelson said on April 8. "We have surpassed New York in population. But New York and Florida also have in common the threat of hurricanes."

Do more people live in Florida than New York? We didn’t think our own senator had that right.

New York vs. Florida numbers

On Dec. 30, the Census Bureau released estimates through July 2013 which showed that New York narrowly held on to its spot as the third most-populous state behind California and Texas. New York had 19,651,127 residents while Florida had 19,552,860. That means that New York has 98,267 more residents than Florida.

The next such release of data will be in December.

(We will rely on the census to make an apples-to-apples comparison between Florida and New York. However Florida’s office of Economic and Demographic Research has a slightly lower figure for Florida’s population: it placed it at 19,485,270 as of February 2014. The state projects we will surpass the 20 million mark in 2016.)

But the story doesn’t end there.

The Miami Herald reported on Dec. 30 that demographers said that Florida was on track to soon overtake New York because Florida was growing more quickly.

"It’s quite clear that Florida, in terms of overall population, is going to overtake New York," Ira Sheskin, who chairs the Department of Geography and Regional Studies at the University of Miami, told the Miami Herald. "It won’t take much longer."

Both states have received a steady stream of immigrants, said Stan Smith, of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

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"But in terms of (domestic) migration, more people leave New York than move into New York," Smith told the Miami Herald in December.

Tracking when Florida will surpass New York is more than just interesting trivia and bragging rights. Size matters when it comes to doling out billions of dollars in federal money.

So why did Nelson think it had already happened? Nelson’s spokesman pointed to a March article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about new growth estimates released for the Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties for July 2010 through July 2013. The article stated:

"As a result, Florida last month likely edged New York to become the third most populous state in the nation, based on bureau estimates and a Herald-Tribune analysis of the data," the article stated. "During that three-year period, Florida’s population grew by an average of 645 people daily, while New York’s grew by some of 231 a day."

"If you look at the recent trends, it certainly appeared that Florida would pass New York somewhere between July 2013 and June of 2014," Smith told the Herald-Tribune.

We sent Nelson’s statement and the Herald-Tribune article to a few demographers in Florida and New York and asked if they thought Nelson could declare Florida already in the third place spot. All of the experts told us that we would need to wait for official numbers from the census.

"Florida will probably pass New York this year, but there is no guarantee," Smith told PolitiFact.

"You will need to wait for proof," Andrew Beveridge, a professor at Queens College and an expert on census data, told PolitiFact Florida in an email. "Maybe something like ‘Most likely.’ "

Whether Florida is now ahead of New York remains unclear, University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin told PolitiFact Florida in an email.

"Population change is Births - Deaths + In-migration - Out-migration. Florida grew 4 percent from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2013, and New York at 1.4 percent. So we will eventually overtake New York. But even given that we are 8 months past the last Census Bureau estimate, it is not clear that we have yet surpassed New York."

Amy Baker, the coordinator of Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, said EDR believes based on its own data that Florida will surpass New York "sometime in late 2015 or early 2016. If the Census Bureau has a better handle on our growth than we do, the date would be sooner. But even then you would need the next set of census data to confirm."

Our ruling

Nelson said, "My state of Florida is now the third-largest state. We have surpassed New York in population."

Based on official information from the U.S. Census, as of July 2013, New York was in third place in population with about 100,000 more residents than Florida. Demographers have predicted that Florida will soon overtake New York and it’s possible that it has already happened, but demographers said we won’t know for certain until the census releases updated information later this year. We rate politicians’ claims based on information available at the time, so at this point we can’t declare for certain that Florida has inched ahead of New York.

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Census, Florida and New York population estimates, 2013

Sen. Bill Nelson, Video clip of Sen. Nelson speaking at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, April 8, 2014

Senate Armed Services Committee, Hearing, April 8, 2014

Florida Demographic Estimating Conference, Executive Summary, Feb. 10, 2014

Miami Herald, "Florida’s population grows, but not enough to overcome New York," Dec. 30, 2013

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "Can it be that Florida’s now No. 3?" March 14, 2014

New York Times, "New York soon to trail Florida population," Dec. 27, 2013

New York Times, "New York stays ahead of Florida in population," Dec. 30, 2013

Interview, Andrew Beveridge, sociology professor Queens College, April 8, 2014

Interview, Ira Sheskin, University of Miami professor, chair Department of Geography and Regional studies, April 8, 2014

Interview, Scott K. Cody, demographer with the Population Program of the Bureau of ... Research at the University of Florida, April 8, 2014

Interview, Jan K. Vink, a specialist with the Program on Applied Demographics at Cornell University, April 8, 2014

Interview, Stanley Smith, professor of economics and director of the Population Program in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR) at the University of Florida, April 8, 2014

Interview, Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, April 8, 2014

Interview, Adria Thomas, spokeswoman U.S. Census Bureau, April 8, 2014

Interview, Lt. Col. James Evans, Florida National Guard, April 8, 2014

Interview, M. Caitlin Brown, Maj Chief, Public Affairs Operations Florida National Guard, April 8, 2014

Interview, Amy Baker, coordinator Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, April 10, 2014


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