Census figures released Thursday are a balm to anyone who longs for the days before social distancing, particularly to those bullish on local growth: Flagler County’s population grew 20.3 percent between 2010 and 2019, to 115,000 people, ranking the county as the 87th fastest growing in the nation. Ten years ago the county’s population was 95,692.
Flagler was one of 15 Florida counties that made the top-100 fastest growing counties in the nation. There are 3,142 counties and county equivalents in the United States, according to the Census Bureau’s so-called “Vintage 2019” figures.
But the starker trend is the demographic make-up behind those numbers: Flagler County has gotten sharply older in the past decade, with implications for local health care, social services, schools, even politics.
Just 16.9 percent of Flagler’s population is 18 or younger, while 30.7 percent is 65 and over. Ten years ago, 19 percent were 18 or younger, while just 24 percent were 65 or over. Demographically, socially and economically, that is a rapid and very significant shift.
That shift is even more arresting in actual numbers: Ten years ago the population 18 and younger was 18,181. Today, it’s 19,435. Ten years ago the population 65 and older was 22,966. Today, it’s 35,305. Put another way, more than 12,000 of the net new arrivals were in the 65-and-older group.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and the county’s fire services have been pointing out that calls for service, medical service among them, have been increasing rapidly. The demographic numbers are one explanation: older people require disproportionately more medical attention than younger people.
The Flagler County school district’s enrollment make the point just as starkly: enrollment has remained remarkably, stubbornly flat in the 10 years covered by the Census figures. Enrollment was 12,981 in April 2010. It was 12,833 in April 2019.
Drilling further into those enrollment numbers points to a slightly diminishing number of students in the lower elementary grades compared to middle and high school: those moving into Flagler are disproportionately older families without school-age children. That could spell trouble ahead for the district as it seeks to renew a half-cent sales tax–the tax whose revenue paid for the district’s one-to-one computer initiative, placing a computer in the hands of every student, and making the district’s remote education, starting Monday, possible.
That’s a sharp difference with St. Johns County, where the growth rate among families with school-age children has been so pronounced that the school district developed plans to build one school per year.
The increasingly older population in Flagler has meant increasingly engaged voters: the older the voter, the more likely the voter is to be registered and to cast ballots in an election, with older voters preferring to vote by mail or to vote early. All those trends have been validated in recent elections, with 87,936 of the county’s residents registered to vote–what would amount to an 89 percent registration rate among adults in the county.
Flagler County is also getting somewhat more white and more Hispanic, with blacks diminishing. The population was 82 percent white 10 years ago. It’s now 83.9 percent white. The proportion of African-Americans is falling, from 11.4 percent in 2010 to 10.7 percent in 2019. The proportion of Asians has risen slightly from 2.1 percent to 2.6 percent. And what the Census Bureau categorizes as “persons of Hispanic or Latino origin” have seen their proportion go from 8.6 percent to 10.5 percent.
The fastest-growing county in the nation was Williams, in North Dakota, growing at a rate of 68 percent, that growth fueled by the fracking boom in that state which has come to a crashing end in recent months because of the collapse of the price of oil. Three counties in texas are among the top five fastest-growing, followed by Florida’s Sumter County, in sixth place, growing by 41.7 percent in the last decade.
The other top-100 counties are Osceola (39.8 percent), St. Johns (39.3), Walton (34.6), Manatee (24.9), Lee (24.5), Lake (23.6), Santa Rosa (21.8), Orange (21.6), Nassau (20.9), Polk (20.4), Flagler (20.3), Hillsborough (19.7), Collier (19.7) and Pasco (19.2).
In the decade ending in 2010, Flagler and Sumter counties had been Florida’s fastest-growing.
Flagler County’s annual growth rate steepened in the last year the Census Bureau calculated–from July 2018 to July 2019–growing at a 2.7 percent rate and adding 3,000 people, which appears to be the largest single-year total in the past decade. Flagler ranked 80th in the nation in past-year growth rate.
The numbers may all be impacted by the coronavirus recession, depending on its severity.
Vintage 2019 is the last series of population estimates to be released before the completion of the 2020 Decennial Census, which is currently underway across the nation. Data from the 2020 Census will be released beginning this December and running all through 2021.