Recession causes Florida’s population to drop for first time since 1946
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s economic slump has pulled down the state’s population, which declined for the first time since military personnel left the state after the end of World War II, according to the latest preliminary population estimates from the University of Florida.
The loss of more than 58,000 residents is connected directly to Florida’s change from an employment-producing to a job-loss state, said Stan Smith, director of UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, who led the research.
“The population decline is really a reflection of how severe the national recession has been,” Smith said. “Traditionally, Florida’s growth has been spurred by both a booming economy and a booming housing market, and both have seen substantial losses over the last couple of years.”
During the year leading up to April 2009, the Sunshine State is estimated to have lost 58,294 residents, with its total population falling from 18,807,219 to 18,748,925, Smith said. Compounding the problem is the housing market meltdown, which made it difficult for people who otherwise would want to move to Florida to sell their homes or get a loan to buy a house, he said.
The population loss — the first since 1946 — is spread across Florida because the factors that contributed to the decline exist statewide rather than regionally, Smith said.
“About half of the counties lost population and half gained, and both the losers and the gainers are spread throughout the state,” he said.
Broward County recorded the state’s largest population decline, losing an estimated 13,904 residents in the last year, followed by Lee County, 8,601, and Palm Beach, 8,033, Smith said. Because these are sizeable counties, the declines were not particularly large on a percentage basis compared with other counties, he said.
The biggest percentage losses were found in less populated Union and Suwannee counties in North Florida, Smith said. “In small counties, even a relatively small numerical population change can lead to a fairly substantial percentage change,” he said.
The county with the largest population gain was Alachua, adding 3,844 residents between 2008 and 2009 to give it a total of 256,232 residents, Smith said. The large number of students and university employees adds stability to population trends in Alachua County, he said.
Lake County was close behind, adding 3,614 residents to grow from a population of 288,379 to 291,993, Smith said. “Lake County is home to The Villages, which is a large and rapidly growing retirement community. I think that is part of the explanation why they continued to grow even as other counties were declining,” he said.
Florida has been such a high-growth state that a population decline is much more noticeable than in states that have been declining in the past or growing very slowly, Smith said. “This reflects a very abrupt change from three or four years ago, when Florida was experiencing some of its largest population increases ever,” he said.
Up and down years are not unusual for Florida, Smith said. In the early 1970s, for example, there were several years when the state’s population grew by more than 400,000 a year, but a severe economic recession in the mid-1970s reduced growth to less than 200,000 a year, he said.
“What is different now is that we’re seeing an actual decline in the population and not just a slowdown in the growth rate,” he said.
Although there are signs that the nation is pulling out of the recession and various indicators show that economic growth may be at hand, Smith said he does not believe Florida’s population growth will rebound any time soon. “Growth will be fairly slow for the next year or so but will increase early in the next decade,” he said.
But Smith said he doesn’t foresee long periods of growth as high as those in the past. “Florida has grown by approximately 3 million a decade since 1970. I don’t think growth will be that great in the future but it will still be pretty strong compared with most other states,” he said.