Florida  is the fourth-most-populous state in the United States, with approximately 18 million people calling the state home. Population growth has slowed considerably since a migration boom in 2005 made it the fifth-fastest-growing state in the country; today, it’s estimated to be about 30th. The most densely populated areas are within the Miami –Fort Lauderdale, Tampa , and Orlando  regions, while there are parts of the Panhandle that have population densities of less than 1 person per square mile.
The largest racial group is a varied mix of non-Hispanic Caucasians, who make up approximately 60 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics—primarily from Cuba  and Puerto Rico —make up about 18 percent, a number that increases every year. Black residents comprise about 16 percent, with the highest concentration in Jacksonville  and the Panhandle; most claim direct ancestry from Southern slave states, but there is a large population of Haitians and Afro-Cubans as well. Asians account for about 2 percent, with Native Americans and other groups making up the rest of the state’s diverse cultural “salad bowl.” The largest ethnic enclaves in Florida can be found in Miami  (Cuban American, Haitian, Italian), Orlando  (Puerto Rican, Vietnamese), Tampa Bay  (Greek, Puerto Rican), and the Naples  area (German).
Baptists, Methodists, and other Protestant faiths make up nearly half of the religious affiliation of Florida  residents, and nearly a quarter of the state’s population is Roman Catholic. The state’s Jewish residents only total about 5 percent of the total population, but their numbers are disproportionate in Miami , which is has the third-largest Jewish population of any American city. There are a number of “crystal cathedral”–type megachurches in the state, particularly in Orlando  and South Florida, and the “spiritual headquarters” of the Church of Scientology is located in Clearwater.
English is the predominant language in Florida, with more than three-quarters of the state’s school-age children using it as their first language at home. Given the cultural diversity of the state and the large population of immigrants from Latin America, Spanish is widely spoken, and many government documents are available in both English and Spanish. Additionally, French Creole, spoken primarily by the Haitian population, is also quite prominent. All Florida educators must be certified in teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
Well-known works created by Florida  authors include Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, based on Hurston’s youth in Eatonville; Ernest Hemingway’s writing—it’s estimated that Papa did some 70 percent of his life’s work in Key West ; and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling was written at and inspired by her citrus farm in north-central Florida. Additionally, hard-boiled books by Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen combine cop-drama action and sunbaked strangeness that could only come from Florida, and the gritty and grisly tales told in the novels of Harry Crews are uniquely products of this place.
One of the most interesting visual arts stories in Florida is that of the Highwaymen. This group of 26 African-American painters hailed from the Fort Pierce area. The nearly 200,000 works that were produced by the members of this loose-knit group were sold out of the backs of their cars along State Road A1A and U.S. 1 during the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the painters were taught by fellow Fort Pierce artist and renowned landscape painter A. E. Backus, but the outsider art they created didn’t capture the interest of galleries or collectors until the late 1990s, and in 2004 all 26 of the recognized Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Hall of Fame.
Pop art legend Robert Rauschenberg split his time between New York City and a home studio on Captiva Island  for years, and from 2003 until his death in 2008 he worked solely from Captiva.
Frank Swift Chase, one of the founders of the Woodstock Artists’ Association, also founded the Sarasota School of Art and taught there occasionally for more than a decade. Of course, everyone’s favorite soft-spoken painting instructor, public television’s Bob Ross, called New Smyrna Beach  home until his death.
Florida  has been the birthplace of dozens of famous musicians, although most of them secured their fame elsewhere. Punks like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Blondie’s Debbie Harry made their names in New York City, while a rocker like Jim Morrison had to leave Gainesville to make it big in Los Angeles with the Doors—although one of his career’s most infamous moments occurred when he was arrested for indecent exposure in Miami . Country legend Gram Parsons was born in Winter Haven, but didn’t find success until moving to Los Angeles.
There are a few homegrown talents that Floridians are justifiably proud of. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers got their start in Gainesville, and Lynyrd Skynyrd waved the flag for Jacksonville  throughout their Southern-rock career. On the counterculture front, the roots of heavy metal’s underground offshoot known as death metal had its genesis in the Tampa Bay  area, and the raunchy rhymes and club-filling beats of Miami rap go beyond Luther Campbell’s First Amendment battles all the way to the chitlin-circuit postdisco grooves of acts like Blowfly.
There are quite a few chart-toppers that may not qualify for Sunshine State Hall of Fame status quite yet. Rap-rockers Limp Bizkit hail from Jacksonville , and the entire boy band scene of the 1990s—Backstreet Boys, ’N Sync—emanated from recording studios in suburban Orlando , as did the arena-rock stylings of Creed.