The Sunshine State just had its first population loss since 1946, according to research from the University of Florida. The State lost 58,000 residents in the year ending March, 2009, the first such loss since military personnel left the State when WWII ended.
This decline is sobering to Florida, a state used to nothing but unending growth. The experts are quick to provide a multitude of reasons for this change, leading the casual observer to think Florida might have lost its (retirement) mojo. The current recession and attendant housing crisis is the most important reason for the decline. Construction is hugely important in this state, yet
there is so little of that work that people are leaving the state to find jobs. Meanwhile the free fall in housing prices brought on by foreclosures, bankruptcies, and short sales has brought panic into the market; people are losing their homes and others are afraid to buy and see prices go down further. The state has prided itself on being a low-tax state, which is now producing its own problems. State and local budgets are being cut drastically, helping to fuel the recession and discourage families from moving here. Lastly, the hurricanes of a few years ago have led to dramatic increases in homeowner insurance rates, adding greatly to the cost of living here.
According to Stan Smith, Director of UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, the decline is spread across Florida. Counties in South Florida like Broward, Lee, and Palm Beach Counties all had population losses. In central Florida some counties increased their populations. Those include Alachua County (home to Gainesville and the University of Florida) and Lake County (home to The Villages). According to Smith the population decline “… reflects a very abrupt change from three or four years ago, when Florida was experiencing some of its largest population increases ever”. Since the 1970’s the State experienced net population growth of 10 million per decade; Smith thinks those days are over.
Florida as a retirement destination
To some extent Florida’s population decline is confined more to the working population rather than the retired folks. Although the “halfback” phenomenon is at work (where people retire to Florida only to later move halfway back to the Carolinas), that is probably confined to a small number of people. The question is whether people will stop moving to Florida for their retirement in the years to come. Here are some pros and cons as to what will happen:
Pros for Florida as retirement destination
– Only an Ice Age could take Florida’s winter warmth away from it, and hopefully that’s a few thousand years from now. The Sunshine State is the warmest place in the Continental U.S., so anyone looking for warm winters will still choose Florida over just about anywhere else
– The housing crisis has so distorted the market that Florida real estate is a relative bargain again, after a few years of being overpriced. The Florida Association of Realtors reports that the median price of a FL condo in August was $107,500, down 46 percent from its 2007 level
– Florida is a tax friendly state. Full time residents can Homestead their homes if they are used as a primary residence, which means their taxes can’t go up more than the cost of living. Florida has no income tax or taxes on intangibles
– No state can match the number of active adult and 55+ communities that are already built and looking for residents
Cons against Florida’s retirement importance
– Florida’s negative publicity about population losses, housing crisis, recession, and tax revenue woes are not helping. Some people will think twice about moving into that negative environment
– Many baby boomers have a negative image of Florida (congestion, population age, conservative makeup, untrammeled growth unraveling)
– The housing market is so bad in parts of the State that people are nervous about moving there
– The State’s budget cuts will make people fearful that vital services will not be available
– Most importantly, retirees have so many more choices than they did 20 or even 10 years ago. The Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, etc. have marketing budgets to attract retirees. Some of their tax structures are friendly for baby boomer retirees. There are plenty of brand new 55+ communities to choose from with great amenities available at attractive prices.
Florida used to own the retirement market. Today it is losing share and doing nothing against a host of eager competitors.
Newsweek article about Florida population losses
Sunshine Harder to Find in Florida