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Our Shrinking Population

Tom PattonIt’s finally official. Florida’s population is shrinking. Not a lot, mind you, but certainly. A study being released to cities and counties shows Florida’s population shrank by 58,000 from April 2008 to April 2009, according to The Tallahassee Democrat.

10 years ago, Florida’s population was growing by 800 to 1000 people a day. Drawn by the climate, plentiful jobs, and low taxes, the state’s population was practically exploding. All those people needed places to live, had to buy things, and commute to work, adding to the state’s tax base. Houses were being built almost as quickly as builders could staple them together, strip malls were built near all the new homes, roads had to built to get people between the new homes and the new strip malls, all that meant jobs, tax receipts, and the inevitable congestion.

Our conversations were about scarce water resources, affordable housing for low to mid income people, providing adequate schools, infrastructure, police and fire protection. Duval county remains the lone holdout among large metropolitan areas on impact fees, and our delegation (mostly) is backing a move to repeal most concurrency laws which provide funding for infrastructure when new developments are built. Tax incentives were plentiful in attempting to draw business to the region. Because there was seemingly plenty of money, it was easy to roll back property tax milage rates.

Then came two years of 4 hurricanes each. For a while it provided plenty of jobs in the construction field, as people tried to do whatever they could to get their houses put back in order. But the storms started making people think twice about living near the ocean. I know more than one person who moved off the beach following those years. The “Half Backs” started to emerge. Those were people who moved down from colder climates, lived in Florida for a while, and then moved halfway back … usually to the Carolinas or Tennessee. Still warmer than where they were before, but with more change of season, and far less chance of a hurricane ripping off the roof.

And then came the recession. Jobs dried up, and people started moving to anyplace they could find work. Lots of people started to leave Florida.

And now, we’re in a negative population growth scenario. With property tax receipts continuing to fall, there are now fewer people to buy stuff. Sales tax receipts are falling as well. It’s no wonder the legislature had a $6 billion dollar hole to fill last year.

If there’s an upside, it’s that we might not have to build classrooms as quickly as we had originally thought to keep up with the demands of Amendment 9, the class size amendment.

Some see this negative migration as a temporary phenomenon. That’s probably true. There is just too much to recommend being here to have the negative numbers last for very long. But for now, the number of Floridians is declining. It will be interesting to see how Duval County fares in that study. Certainly, we’ve felt our losses like everywhere else in the state, but at least in the beach communities, property values have fallen less than the state as a whole, so perhaps we’ll do better than the rest of the state in population loss as well.

I wouldn’t look for any reduction in the congressional delegation anytime soon. But the people who come to Florida in the next 10 years may find a somewhat different place than those who came during the last boom. They’ll be coming to a state with serious homeowners insurance issues, an again population making Medicare costs rise, and some say a threat from global warming that could swamp a third or so of the state in the next … well they’re not very specific about that. Color me skeptical on that one.

But for now, we’re in a lull. The only thing that will draw more people back to Florida is more jobs that pay enough for people to be able to afford a home and live fairly comfortably. Attracting and keeping those jobs will be the challenge for the next session of the legislature, and city councils across the state will be looking for every competitive advantage.

Florida will be back. And hopefully stronger than it was before.

1 Responses »

  1. Tom, you have hit the nail squarely - jobs are what Floridians need, and not just lawn-mowing, drywall-hanging, pool-cleaning jobs. We need jobs that pay enough so that our people can [realistically] qualify for a mortgage; can afford the rising cost of health insurance for their family; can pay for increasing energy costs; can afford increasing property insurance premiums; and can still hope to send their children to college. Thanks to the defense economy here in Jacksonville, as well as in Ft. Walton Beach and Pensacola, we benefit from a large federal payroll as well as from federal entitlements paid to dependents and retirees. The rest of this state is in far worse shape. The challenge for any elected official must be how to create jobs as good as those that our military population has. As for Jacksonville - bring on that nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.