At a loss

Study shows Middle Keys population down since Irma

By the calculations of researchers at the University of Florida, Monroe County has lost 3.8 percent of its full-time residents in the last year, with Marathon taking the biggest hit.

The primary source of data gathered by University of Florida research demographer Rich Doty’s team of five is the change in active residential electrical connections.

“That’s the best source of data we have to estimate the change in occupied housing units,” Doty said. “The formulas are complicated, but the concept is pretty simple.”

The yearly study is done using data from the Florida Keys Electric Co-op and Keys Energy Service, which provide active account information annually to Doty.

The numbers are pretty finalized, he said, but even more solid data will be revealed after the 2020 census results.

“Between decennial censuses, these are estimates based on what we feel are very good reliable data, but there are still some assumptions in regard to changes in household size and occupancy,” he said.

In Marathon, where 394 homes were destroyed by Irma according to county information, the population has declined by 6.2 percent, or 540 people.

Still, just one family leaving is too many, said Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey.

“I’m very thankful it’s not more (than 540). I’m incredibly proud of our community and its tenacity and resilience following Irma, and myself like many others were encouraged to stay because of our community strength,” he said. “However, I’m looking forward to the census data to get a more accurate account.”

Countywide, 2,949 people have left, the majority from unincorporated Monroe totaling 1,936. In incorporated Monroe, 1,013 residents moved.

In Islamorada, the population dropped by 336 residents, the study showed.

“The fact is, we lost a number of residences in three mobile home parks and a few conventional homes in the storm. I’m sure others moved for economic reasons,” said Village Manager Seth Lawless.

Key West lost a mere 88 people, not even half of 1 percent of its population of 24,509.

The 2018 population totals are close to numbers from 2015 in all areas of the county.

“Those were good years, and I think the new numbers show we’re not having doomsdays like some folks suggested after the storm,” said county administrator Roman Gastesi. “People said we were going to lose our economy and 10,000 to 15,000 people were going to leave. It’s clear the economy is going to bounce back.”

He also mentioned the drastic loss in residents between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, which showed a population loss of about 8,000 people.

“The economy didn’t fall apart, and that was one of the worst economic downturns we’ve ever seen,” he said.

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