New York remains the third most populous state in the country, but its anemic 2.1 percent population growth in the past decade reflects a continuing movement of people and political power to states in the South and West, according to the first 2010 Census results, released Tuesday.

The census reported the population of New York State to be 19,378,102 in 2010, behind California with 37,253,956 people and Texas at 25,145,561. Florida's 18,801,310 residents trailed New York, but its percentage growth was higher at 17.6 percent.

The modest population gain means a loss of two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"New York didn't lose its third place status to Florida. That's something positive," said Seth Forman, chief planner for the Long Island Regional Planning Council. "The way the trends were going in the beginning of the decade, it looked like it was a sure thing" that Florida's population would surpass New York's, he said. "It looks like the recession slowed that up."

New York's continued third-place ranking pleased Gov. David A. Paterson, who said in a statement that it demonstrated the state "continues to be an attractive place to live and work."

The data show populations for states and the nation without breaking out numbers for counties and smaller areas.

"This is a continuation of a trend of people moving for opportunity," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, citing lower housing costs and more jobs in other regions.

The nation's overall population grew 9.7 percent since 2000, to 308,745,538, a growth rate that was the "second lowest of the past century," U.S. Census Bureau director Robert Groves said during a Washington, D.C., news conference Tuesday. He estimated 60 percent of the growth was due to births and 40 percent to immigration.

"The rate of growth of the U.S. population has gradually slowed," Groves said.

The country's highest growth rate of 18.5 percent occurred between 1950 and 1960 and reflected the postwar Baby Boom, he said. The lowest growth during the past century - 7.3 percent - occurred between 1930 and 1940.

New York has remained among the top five most populous states since the census was first conducted in 1790, Groves said. The slow growth of the past decade wasn't the lowest for the state. Between 1970 and 1980, New York lost 3.7 percent of its population, according to historical census data.

While the U.S. Constitution requires the census be conducted every 10 years to determine each state's congressional apportionment, the population numbers also affect redistricting for state legislatures and distributing more than $400 billion annually in federal aid.

Regionally, the Northeast saw population increases averaging 3.2 percent while Midwestern states averaged a 3.9 percent gain. The South and West showed much larger increases, 14.3 percent and 13.8 percent, respectively.

Levy cautioned that the census may not fully reflect population changes related to the recent recession. "These are 10-year pictures, but it may not tell you the direction the country is going in today," he said, citing Nevada's 35 percent population increase that "may have slowed, due to the recession and, in particular, the foreclosure crisis and real estate value" decline.

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