MANATEE — Manatee County has become slightly younger, a little more masculine, more racially diverse and a lot more Hispanic so far this decade, according to Census estimates to be released today.
The county’s Hispanic and Asian populations have nearly doubled, its median age has fallen by a few months and males narrowed their numerical gap with females between 2000 and mid-2008, the figures show.
The Census’ July 1, 2008, statistical snapshot of Manatee largely mirrored Florida, which has steadily become more ethnically and racially diverse, demographers said.
“These are trends that have been going on for a while, and (Manatee) is not much different than Florida as a whole,” said Stefan Rayer of the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research in Gainesville.
Manatee’s Hispanic population has exploded since 1990, when roughly 9,000 Hispanics lived here. That nearly tripled to almost 25,000 in 2000, and stood at an estimated 42,635 last year, the Census estimated. Hispanics now make up 13.5 percent of the county’s roughly 315,000 residents, up from 9 percent of the population at the millennium’s beginning.
Francisco Walle, a Mexican native who has lived in Manatee since 1987, has seen the growth through the Latin American Soccer League of Palmetto, of which he is president.
The league grew to more than 60 teams during the height of the housing boom, when Hispanics flocked to Manatee for construction and other housing-related jobs. Although the number of teams has since dropped to 42 because of the housing slump, evidence of the increased Hispanic presence remain, Walle said.
“Up until about two or three years ago in Manatee County, you didn’t see too many Hispanic businesses,” he said. “Now you see many more.”
Walle said many Hispanics who first came to Manatee for seasonal work later settled here permanently, drawn by the area’s weather, low cost of living and economic opportunities. Their numbers also have grown faster than other ethnic and racial groups because Hispanics have a higher birth rate, Rayer said.
Ron Cornette, marketing manager of Wagner Realty, said he’s also noticed a growing number of Hispanics are more educated and more affluent.
“We’re getting a whole different group of Hispanics, which is good,” he said.
Manatee’s Asian population experienced a similar growth spurt, increasing from 2,500 in 2000 to 4,756 last year, the Census said. Asians now make up 1.5 percent of the county’s population, up from 0.9 percent in 2000.
The county’s black population has grown incrementally, from 8.4 percent in 2000 to 9 percent last year. But Manatee still remains overwhelmingly white: 87.9 percent last year, down from 89.5 percent eight years earlier.
Other findings from the latest Census estimates:
n The county’s median age, the point where half the population is older and half younger, was 43.3 years last July. It was 43.6 years in 2000.
n Those 65 and older made up 22.8 percent of Manatee’s population last year, down from 24.7 percent in 2000.
n Females still outnumbered males in Manatee last year, but the gap has been steadily closing: Males accounted for 48.8 percent of the county’s population last year compared to 48.3 percent in 2000.
And, despite Florida’s reputation as a retirement haven, it tied with New Hampshire for the nation’s fourth-oldest state with a mean age of 40.2 years. The oldest was Maine (42 years), followed by Vermont (41.2) and West Virginia (40.6).
Utah, at 28.7 years, was the youngest.
Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.