Florida’s population has declined for the first time in 63 years, state researchers said as they blamed the recession for plunging tax revenues and a steep drop in new residents.
The decline — 58,000 people over the past year — is the first since large numbers of military personnel left the state in 1946 after World War II.
“There have been booms and busts over the time, but this is the first time it has declined,” said Stan Smith, director of the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
Florida’s economy relies on population growth, so when the flow of new residents slows, jobs in construction, real estate and mortgage lending disappear, creating a less attractive environment. Florida’s unemployment rate crept up to 10.6 percent in June, the highest rate since 1975, and the state’s foreclosure rate is among tops in the nation.
The population estimates were produced using data from residential electric hookups, building permits and homestead exemptions, Smith said. The university is expected to release details of city and county populations today.
Florida’s population is about 18.3 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Part of the reason fewer people are moving to the state is their inability to sell their homes in other states, Smith said. The leading source for domestic migrants to Florida continues to be New York, but the pace of migration is slowing, Smith said.
The study did not measure the number of people leaving Florida.
“Historically, they have gone to other Sunbelt states,” he said.
The population drop has left empty seats in classrooms. The state’s estimated public school enrollment for 2009-10 is down 10,000 from the previous school year, according to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research.
The future is not all gloom and doom, Smith said. Demographers expect Florida to resume growth again, just not as fast as in the past.
“As the country moves out of the recession, we expect growth to increase,” Smith said. “But not as high as levels we’ve seen over the last three or four decades.”
In an ideal world, the pause in growth may allow policy makers to make better planning decisions, said Charles Pattison, president of the smart growth advocacy group, 1,000 Friends of Florida.
“The state has always had ups and downs on the population curve,” Pattison said. “We think there is still going to be pressure to have more population growth.”
Other elements contributing to the population slowdown include frequent hurricanes, high coastal property insurance and a rising cost of living, he said.
“The whole Florida phenomenon is based on low cost, low taxes, cheap to live,” Pattison said. “I think most people think, regardless if we’re in a recession or not, those factors are different than anything we’ve seen before.”
Sen. Don Gaetz, chairman of the Florida Senate’s Select Committee on Florida’s Economy, said changes are needed in the way Florida manages its economy.
“Our economic policies need to be tied to economic reality,” the Niceville Republican said. He said the Legislature began removing some impediments that restricted business activity.
“In the ’80s and ’90s, the No. 1 issue was growth management,” he said. “Now we wish we had some growth to manage.”
Associated Press writer Mike Schneider in Orlando contributed to this report.