South Florida could lose political power and receive a smaller share of federal funding after new census numbers show Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties grew slower than other parts of the state.
This could have far-reaching consequences since census data is used by organizations and local governments when competing for federal and state contracts and programs.
Florida, in general, grew slower than many people expected - adding only one new congressional seat. Many thought the state would receive two.
The data shows the growth was slower in South Florida, compared to the rest of the state, which surprised some researchers because historically South Florida has been a political powerhouse and an economic engine.
Central Florida and Southwest Florida outpaced South Florida in population growth, according to the census data.
"We’ve never been the center of the state but we’ve been the center of attention. So now the center of the state will become the center of attention,” said Dr. Maria Ilcheva, the assistant director of Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center - which was part of the local census committee.
Local leaders knew the consequences and spent much of 2020 urging people in South Florida to fill out census forms and be counted.
"We’re never going to receive the money that we deserve if we don’t know how many people are living in our city,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in 2020.
"The dollar amount that we’re leaving on the table could be equal to $30 billion over a ten-year period,” said former County Commissioner Steve Bovo at the time.
Ilcheva provided NBC 6 with numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program showing South Florida grew 10.8% in the last ten years. Central Florida, including Orange, Lake, Polk, and Osceola counties, grew at 23.7%. Southwest Florida, including Lee and Collier counties, grew at 22.9%. Northeast Florida, including Saint John, Nassau and Duval counties, grew at 16.3%.
"Whether it’s early childhood education, Pell Grants, student aid, financial aid is a major portion of that, as well as healthcare," Ilcheva said.
Ilcheva said the expansion in Central Florida comes from two reasons: a lower cost of living and the area has more job opportunities for newcomers.
Looking deeper into the numbers, Ilcheva said, another thing stood out. Native Floridians are leaving Miami-Dade County. The new growth is coming from outside of the United States.
It’s important to keep in mind that more detailed information will come out in August and December, which will have more information on poverty, demographics, and family situations.