Census: Fla. no longer a paradise

Jan 3, 2008

Miami Herald, 1/2/2008

It appears that the Sunshine State is losing some of its sparkle.

Florida’s population grew slower in the year ending July 2007 than any year this decade, according to Census Bureau data released this week. More retirees, long the staple of Florida’s growth, are looking elsewhere, scared away by surging housing costs, including insurance and property taxes.

Couple that with road congestion, low wages and the lingering memories from two devastating hurricane seasons, and the state apparently has started to look less like paradise.

Florida gained just 35,000 people from elsewhere in the country this year, the lowest number since the Census Bureau began breaking down the migration numbers in 1990. It also marks the first time in at least 17 years that Florida added more people from other countries (88,111) than from other states.

Overall, Florida slipped from the ninth-fastest growing state to the 19th.

”This place used to be a dream for the working class,” said Gary Mormino, professor of Florida studies at the University of South Florida. ”But those days are over. This is a hard place to be poor.”


While the cost to buy or rent a home in many parts of Florida has risen considerably in the past five years, wages haven’t come close to keeping up.

The median price of a house in the Tampa Bay area, $203,200, is at least $18,000 higher than one in Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., or Columbia, S.C. And Florida has the most renters (52 percent) spending 30 percent or more of their income on rent and utilities, according to the American Community Survey.

Instead of keeping with tradition and moving to Florida, more retirees from Eastern states head to Georgia and the Carolinas.

But don’t let the numbers deceive, stressed Stan Smith, director of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Florida’s overall population still increased by 1.1 percent, or 193,735 people down from a 1.8 percent increase the year before.
It’s a normalization of sorts for a state with 18.3 million people, he said.

”Given that Florida is such a large state, that point is not surprising; nor is the population slowdown,” Smith said.

The state’s economy remains dependent on population growth, Smith added.
Among the most dependent industries: home building.

In the boom years, most home builders in the state averaged about 25 homes a year, said Emmett Reed, chief executive of the Florida Home Builders Association. Now those numbers are way down, he said.

”We had such an overheated market for such long time,” Reed said. ”Over five or six years, builders really had plenty of work.”
Experts say that population growth may pick up again soon.

”I think in maybe a year or so you’ll return to normal rates we’ve seen in the past,” Smith said. ”There’s a lot of [advantages to] Florida that will continue.”


Across the country, the fastest-growing states continue to be in the Southwest, according to the census data.

Nevada regained the title of fastest-growing state in terms of percent gain, having jumped 2.9 percent or about 74,000 people to 2.6-million. Arizona was second and Utah third. Texas gained the most people (496,751), with California second (303,342).
The country’s population, as a whole, grew about 1 percent, to 301,621,157.

The Census Bureau compiles the data by measuring births, deaths and migration into and out of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

”This doesn’t mean that Florida is busted and that the best days are over,” Mormino said. ”New generations will redefine and reinvent the Florida dream.”
St. Petersburg Times news researchers Angie Drobnic Holan and Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.