ORLANDO — Sometime this year, Florida will surpass New York in population, becoming the nation’s third-most populous state, and sun-seeking seniors are not driving the growth.
The milestone is validation of the increasing influence of the Sunshine State as it approaches being home to 20 million residents. Once Florida passes New York, only California and Texas will have more people.
‘‘Florida is kind of an icon of the 21st century in terms of the shifting population and the growing role Latin America is playing in transforming the country,’’ said James Johnson, a business professor at the University of North Carolina. ‘‘I think it’s going to be for the 21st century what California or New York was for the 20th century.’’
Florida encompasses many trends in America: an aging population, a service-oriented economy with many low-wage jobs, and an ethnic diversity propelled by Hispanic growth. Like the United States, Florida is a haven for migrants and people making fresh starts, and the state’s 29 electoral votes are the nation’s most coveted given Florida is the nation’s largest swing state. Florida also has myriad problems, some the result of its explosive growth, which must be addressed for the state to keep thriving.
New Floridians, such as 47-year-old Michael Richards, list reasons for moving here: the weather, no state income tax, a familiarity from family vacations or being stationed in the military, the availability of low-skill jobs, and proximity to Latin America and Europe.
‘‘You put up with three months of hell [in the summer] for nine months of great weather,’’ said Richards, who moved to the Tampa area in 2011 after retiring from the military so his wife could be a quick plane-ride away from her family in Panama.