After Century of Growth, Tide Turns in Florida





HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The smiling couple barreling ahead on the cover of Liberty magazine in 1926 knew exactly where to go. “Florida or Bust,” said the white paint on the car doors. “Four wheels, no brakes.”

So it has been for a century, as Florida welcomed thousands of newcomers every week, year after year, becoming the nation’s fourth-most-populous state with about 16 million people in 2000.

Imagine the shock, then, to discover that traffic is now heading the other way. That’s right, the Sunshine State is shrinking.

Choked by a record level of foreclosures and unemployment, along with a helping of disillusionment, the state’s population declined by 58,000 people from April 2008 to April 2009, according to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Except for the years around World Wars I and II, it was the state’s first population loss since at least 1900.

“It’s dramatic,” said Stanley K. Smith, an economics professor at the University of Florida who compiled the report. “You have a state that was booming and has been a leader in population growth for the last 100 years that suddenly has seen a substantial shift.”

The loss is more than a data point. Growth gave Florida its notorious flip-flop and flower-print swagger. Life could be carefree under the sun because, as a famous state tourism advertisement put it in 1986, “The rules are different here.” ...

... Recall what once passed for normal. Florida grew from 2.8 million people in 1950 to 6.9 million in 1970, and by about three million people each decade after that. Even during stagflation in the ’70s, Florida added about 200,000 people a year. More recently, from 2004 to 2006, Florida added about 1,100 people a day, as housing construction’s proportion of the state economy grew to twice the national average.

Now consider Broward County in 2009. The county, between Miami and Palm Beach, was one of the first areas to shrink — losing 21,117 people from April 2007 to April 2009, according to University of Florida data — and its experience offers a glimpse of what could be on the way elsewhere...

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network