Florida Gets A Youth Boost

A common Florida stereotype is the senior, who migrated south after retirement to play shuffleboard in the balmy airs of Boca Raton. But demographics are shifting the Sunshine State. An influx of working-age adults has pushed Florida down to the nation's fifth oldest population, from second place a decade ago.

The population of Florida between the ages 18 and 64 grew by a fifth from 2000 to 2010, outpacing the growth of the state's seniors, according to Census figures released Thursday. America as a whole is facing a reverse trend. Because of aging baby boomers and a longer life expectancy, 65-and-older is the fastest growing demographic.

Florida is still an old state, with a median age of 40.7, almost four years higher than the American average. It's one of seven states with a median age over 40, and is surpassed in age only by Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Vermont.

Certain areas of Florida are also aging faster than others. The median age of Palm Beach County rose by two years, and in the 2010 Census data, half of the top 10 cities with the oldest populations were in the Gulf State.

Nevertheless, Florida isn't graying as fast as some have thought.

Dr. Lawrence Kenny, a professor of labor economics at the University of Florida, says the change may be more to do with fewer seniors moving to the state.

"Migration to Florida came to a standstill a couple years ago," he said. "It's a legacy of the housing boom. The cost of housing - taking out inflation - rose by 40% between 2000 and 2006. They've come down, but my guess is they haven't come down enough."

David Abraham, professor of law at the University of Miami, agrees: "The cost of living has risen enough in comparison to places like the Carolinas and the non-California southwest that Florida isn't the magnet for retirees it once was."

Florida has been losing ground as a retirement destination since 1980, according to the Tampa Tribune, but since 2000 the trend has accelerated. That year, 19% of people 56 and older who changed states moved to Florida, which dropped to 13% in 2006, falling behind Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.

Florida is still a top destination for seniors, claims Amy Baker, the chief economist for the Florida legislature. With no personal income tax and middle-range property tax, Baker believes retirees with continue to flood to America's south-eastern shore. She projects that by 2030, 26% of the Florida population will be 65 or over, up from 17.3% in 2010.

Just in a recession, she said, "people don't move."

But Gainesville and Tallahassee - big university towns - are also two of the youngest cities in the U.S.

"Florida is a really unusual state," she said.

It also has a large Hispanic population, which "tends to be younger, because many of them are immigrants and their birth rates tend to be higher."

Abraham also believes that the large influx of immigrants is responsible for the trend. "They're young, and of child-bearing age, and having kids," he said.

The increase in the working-age population is an economic blessing for an aging state. But of course, those working-age people need be working for that blessing to materialize. And Florida, unfortunately, is above average in another national statistic as well: unemployment.

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