Two people walk along water by palm trees and tall buildings in the background with a population graphic overlay

Shrinking Miami-Dade?

It’s surprising to read headlines about Miami-Dade County losing population from 2019 through 2022. “Miami Sees its First Population Drop in Decades,” the Wall Street Journal reported in August. “What’s the Matter with Miami?” read the headline of a piece by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Both reports blamed increasing housing prices as a big reason for driving many locals away from Florida’s most populous county. Is it possible the reports describe the beginning of a structural shift that will bring the demise of Miami? Is Miami shrinking?

“It’s impossible,” Brian Gale, vice chairman for Cushman and Wakefield, said of any recent decline in population. Gale, a prominent Miami office leasing broker for 30 years, cited Miami’s success in attracting new companies desperate for rental space, giving the city arguably the country’s strongest office market. “More than 1.5 million square feet of new tenants have entered Miami since COVID,” said Gale, who serves on the Bergstrom Real Estate Center’s advisory board. “We’re seeing some of the highest rents in the country for office space, based upon all the demand and the lack of office space available.”

Graphic that looks like a postcard: Greetings from Miami Florida

Looking at the numbers, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the county’s population — which stood at 2.7 million in 2022 — declined 27,795 from April 2020 to July 2022. Between official decennial censuses, the bureau uses a variety of sources to measure the three ways populations change: births, deaths and moves (domestic and international migration). Miami-Dade’s population decline was solely because 86,968 domestic residents moved away, census data shows. The county’s international net migration (55,017) and natural growth (4,692), or births minus deaths, both increased the population. This confirms the basic element of the news reports that the official government record indicates that Miami’s population declined recently.

This was Miami-Dade’s first population drop since 1993 — following the devastating category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and its only multiyear decline in population in at least two generations, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data, which tracks data to 1970. The yearly change in population for Miami-Dade, Florida and the U.S. are charted in Figure 1.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, via Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED)

Miami-Dade was the only Florida county with a population of more than 100,000 to lose population from 2019 through 2022, with only three counties experiencing domestic migration losses. Thus, the overall Florida growth story seems well intact, and it is only Miami-Dade facing this declining population challenge. Figure 2 shows the change in population for Florida counties with 500,000 or more residents.

Figure 2 – Population Change in Largest Florida Counties

Change in population for counties with 500,000 or more people from 2019-2022.

Pop. RankCountyNatural Change (Births - Deaths)International MigrationDomestic MigrationTotal Population Change
1 Miami-Dade 4,692 55,017 -86,968 -27,795
2 Broward 3,761 24,835 -25,836 2,650
3 Palm Beach -8,022 14,261 19,823 26,279
4 Hillsborough 7,211 12,758 32,941 53,528
5 Orange 12,511 20,117 -10,248 22,825
6 Duval 3,759 5,106 11,233 20,976
7 Pinellas -14,414 3,120 13,682 2,636
8 Lee -4,861 4,611 62,246 61,633
9 Polk -2,494 3,245 61,847 62,363
10 Brevard -8,863 1,405 31,639 24,090
11 Pasco -5,988 1,497 51,754 46,897
12 Volusia -9,270 1,503 33,620 25,631

Source: U.S Census Bureau; Total Population Change includes an unattributed residual

UF data tell a different story

Interestingly, not all experts agree with the government’s official estimate of a population decline in Miami-Dade. Richard Doty, a research demographer at the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR), said its separate population survey showed the county gained 55,825 residents between April 2020 and April 2022. “The census numbers just don’t add up in Miami-Dade. Our data suggests the opposite — growth, not decline,” he said.

BEBR uses different methods for estimating population trends between decennial censuses, including active residential electricity customers. Just a handful of the 34 incorporated municipalities comprising Miami-Dade saw a decline, indicating that any population loss was confined to a small slice of the county, Doty said. More recently, BEBR’s estimates showed a slackening of growth: Miami-Dade gained just 11,000 residents in 2023, which means its growth rate tapered, though it remained positive; new census data for 2023 won’t come out until next year.

Figure 3 compares the UF BEBR estimates to the Census Bureau estimates and a little explanation is necessary. Both groups anchor their population estimates to the official count produced by the decennial census, which most recently was in 2020. In all other years, they estimate the population by various methods — the Census Bureau by sample surveys and BEBR by records including utility connections. The lines in Figure 3 converge in 2020 and the census estimates fell in 2021 and rose slightly in 2022 while BEBR estimated a rise during each of the following three years.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, via Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research

The census data shows the population began to decrease from 2019 to 2020, and continued 2020 to 2021, which is the trend picked up by news reports. The county’s population estimate originally presented by BEBR in 2019 was over 2.8 million. However, after receiving the decennial census figures, to which they must anchor, they recalibrated the 2019 estimate to match the Census Bureau’s 2020 numbers and indicated continued growth. Adding to the confusion from these two perspectives is the Census Bureau’s Post-Enumeration Survey that suggests Florida was undercounted in the 2020 census by 3.5% or approximately 750,000 people. Doty speculates this undercount was disproportionately allocated to Miami-Dade. All this demographic data still leaves us with a significant question: Did the county’s population rise or fall the past three years?

A relevant comparison

Even though the initial premise of Miami losing population is suspect, we cannot deny that the city has performed differently than the state recently. Its population has not kept pace with Florida’s growth surge. A national perspective provides some more insight into Miami’s performance. Census data show that most major cities nationwide lost population from 2020-2022 according to the Brookings Institute (Figure 4). Tampa is a notable standout as its continued robust growth made Miami look weak by comparison. Compared with other U.S. cities, the population of Miami-Dade looks to have navigated the pandemic rather well. Again, these are the Census Bureau numbers and Miami-Dade shows a relatively small decline in 2021 and slight recovery in 2022.

Source: William H Frey analysis of Census Bureau Population Estimates, released March 30, 2023

Aerial view of Miami skyscraper construction with other tall buildings in the background
High demand has sent Miami’s office rents soaring since the onset of the pandemic.

The Brookings report seemed to confirm the widely cited fear of proximity to others and the ability for some to work remotely for driving many residents away from dense urban centers. This is best illustrated by the “poster children” for pandemic-related population loss: New York County (Manhattan) and San Francisco County. Manhattan lost 5.9% (98,505 people) from 2020 to 2021 and gained 1.1% (17,472) the following year. San Francisco dropped 6.8% (59,140) and lost another 0.4% (2,816). The changes were driven primarily by domestic migration and mirror other urban counties, including Miami-Dade, with an overall population decline of 0.93% in 2021 and a gain of 0.13% in 2022.


How to view the future of Miami? Recent articles suggest that housing affordability hit a tipping point driving people from the city that may lead to a reversal of fortune in Miami. Admittedly, city rents have risen dramatically, and affordability is a challenge for many. However, rents soared in big cities across the state (Figure 5), and only Miami saw census numbers fall. Moreover, the biggest rent spike was in 2021, which followed the questionable population drop. Overall, this seems a tenuous connection to population change.

Figure 5 – Change in Rents

Rent change in Florida counties with populations exceeding 500,000.

CountyApril 2020July 2022% Change
Miami-Dade $1,944.73 $2,900.41 49%
Lee $1,435.93 $2,110.64 47%
Palm Beach $1,782.73 $2,586.06 45%
Pinellas $1,368.10 $1,978.34 45%
Pasco $1,449.21 $2,090.17 44%
Hillsborough $1,514.58 $2,151.36 42%
Broward $1,746.10 $2,448.22 40%
Brevard $1,395.60 $1,914.67 37%
Polk $1,360.55 $1,861.05 37%
Volusia $1,367.36 $1,842.95 35%
Duval $1,246.01 $1,671.65 34%
Orange $1,518.87 $2,037.53 34%

Source: Zillow Housing Data

The competing position is that Miami-Dade suffered a pandemic pause as was the case for urban areas across the nation. According to Brookings, recovery from this effect is already underway. All of which is to explain a possible, but now questionable, claim that Florida’s largest county lost population at all. Our experts at BEBR believe that this is a phantom loss. It seems that investors, employers, residents and the general public can feel confident in Miami’s stability until some more credible challenge is issued.

Andrew Aramayo

Andrew Aramayo is a UF Nathan S. Collier Master of Science in Real Estate candidate.