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The Florida state flag flies.

(The Center Square) – After scaling back five-year population estimates in July because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state economists’ revised forecast calls for Florida to continue growing by about the size of Orlando each year.  

State economists in a Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) in July projected the state’s population would increase from 21.57 million in 2020 to 22.67 million as of April 1, 2024, with annual growth averaging 271,330 new residents a year, or 743 each day.

That was down almost 200,000 newcomers from the November 2019 Demographic Estimating Conference (DEC) forecast of 326,103 new residents a year, about 893 a day, for a population of 22.84 million by April 1, 2024. The DEC also is comprised of state economists.

This year’s annual DEC, however, more closely resembles last year’s state demographic forecast than the projections issued in July by the REC, even though both conferences include nearly the same economists and number-crunchers.

According to the DEC’s summary report issued this week by the Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research (OEDR), Florida will have 21.89 million residents by April 2021, with the number climbing to 23.1 million by April 2025.

Between now and 2025, the DEC’s report forecasts Florida’s population will increase by an average of 303,264 residents a year, or 831 people per day.

“These increases are analogous to adding a city slightly larger than Orlando every year,” the report said.

The DEC, which assembles population forecasts for the OEDR to be used by legislators in crafting budgets, fixed the state’s population at about 21.6 million.

The 2020 DEC’s estimated average of 831 new daily in-state arrivals is lower than the 2019 DEC’s projection of 893 newcomers a day.

“The world‐wide pandemic and its accompanying economic fallout continues to color this forecast, with slower population growth between April 1, 2020 and 2021 (1.38 percent) than was experienced in the prior year (1.83 percent),” the DEC’s summary report reads.

The DEC fixed the state’s population at about 21.1 million in November 2018, roughly 420,800 fewer people than the U.S. Census Bureau's estimate of 21.5 million at the time.

The November 2020 DEC summary report reads, “Of note, the population estimates developed by the U.S. Census Bureau continue to be higher than the official state estimates adopted by the DEC.”

Although significantly lower than 2018’s 400,000-plus disparity, the DEC forecast that the recently concluded U.S. census will count 170,853 more people in Florida than their data supports.

“The Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research is continuing its efforts to identify how the differing underlying methodologies contribute to the gap between the two sets of estimates,” the summary reads. “In addition, after the 2020 Census counts are released, the historical series will be re‐estimated to take this new data point into consideration.”

The disparities between U.S. Census Bureau and DEC estimates are critical because these population figures will be used not only in allocating federal and state resources, but they will determine how congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn in the coming year in the wake of the 2020 census.

Florida's congressional lines are drawn by the Florida Legislature and subject to gubernatorial veto while its state legislative districts are drawn by the Legislature and passed as a joint resolution, but not subject to gubernatorial veto.

The Legislature is gearing up for what could be a contentious battle in redistricting with a Committee on Reapportionment already existing within its committee structure as a standing committee.

By state statute, state legislative district lines must be drawn in the legislative session in the second year after the federal census is conducted.