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Good news: Florida is aging much more slowly

Maybe it's time for Florida to shed the "God's waiting room" image and revive its slogan as the Fountain of Youth.

The country's overall population has been skewing older the past 10 years in tandem with aging baby boomers. Florida can't escape that trend, but it is aging much more slowly than practically anywhere else.

About 17.3 percent of the state's population was 65 and older in 2010 down from 17.6 percent a decade earlier, according to a U.S. Census analysis released Wednesday. By comparison, 13 percent of the total U.S. population is now over 65, up from 12.4 percent in 2000.

Only a half-dozen states posted a drop in their percentage of older residents, with Florida showing the steepest drop.

"Cool, huh?" said Peter Francese, demographic trends analyst for the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "Over the last 10 years, Florida has really picked up an awful lot of young people, much higher growth than the nation as a whole."

Economists and demographers point to several reasons for the disconnect. Chief among them: Florida has been drawing more younger workers over the past 20 years, particularly in fields like construction. Meanwhile, its inflow of retirees has slowed amid not just the housing bust but fierce competition from states like North Carolina and Georgia.

"This is still a big retirement haven, but that's not why a majority of people move to the state," said Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist who closely tracks the Florida market.

Nationally, the 65-and-up club grew by 15.1 percent between 2000 and 2010 while the total U.S. population grew 9.7 percent.

The number of older Floridians is still growing as well, just not as fast a clip as younger Floridians.

Moreover, Florida still has the greatest share of population 65 and older among all states. But the gap is shrinking. No. 2 West Virginia (with 16 percent over 65) and No. 3 Maine (15.9 percent) both were among states that have been getting older the past 10 years, relatively speaking.

One subset within the older generation is growing especially sharply: those 85 and up.

Some 434,125 Floridians fit in that 85 and older category based on the latest census, up 31 percent from 10 years ago. It was similar nationally: nearly 5.5 million over 85, up 29.6 percent.

Women still outnumber men in the older ages, but men are catching up. The percentage of men 85 to 94 years old nationwide rose almost 47 percent compared with a 23 percent increase for their female counterparts.

The fastest growth rate of all? Try men age 90 to 94 (up more than 50 percent).

Florida already has come a long way in breaking free of its reputation as a retirement haven first and place for families and workers second.

Twenty years ago, Florida had the highest median age in the country; 10 years ago it was second behind West Virginia. (A median is the midpoint in a series of numbers.)

Based on the 2010 census, Florida has fallen to fifth-highest median age in the country, behind Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and New Hampshire.

Because of boomers, Florida's median age has risen to 40.7, and it's expected to continue rising along with the rest of the country. "But Florida is aging more slowly than other parts of the country … very definitely," Francese said.

He sees no reason the trend won't continue over the long haul. Not with health care and a rebounding tourism industry acting as a mecca for jobs in the future. Not with the state's low property taxes, no income tax, a pro builder environment and lower housing prices than much of the country.

"You have robust enough job opportunities and you're the gateway to Latin America," he said. "Florida still has a tremendous advantage."

By the numbers

17.3: Percent of Florida's population 65 and older, the highest rate in the country.

19.8: Percentage of Clearwater residents who are 65 and older, the second-highest rate in the country among cities of 100,000 or more, trailing only Scottsdale, Ariz.

3.5: Percentage of Clearwater residents 85 and up, tied with urban Honolulu for highest in the country.

5: Number of Florida cities in the Top 10 list of those with the highest percentage of elderly residents.

1: Number of states that had fewer residents 65 and up in 2010 (Rhode Island).

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Good news: Florida is aging much more slowly 11/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 11:43am]

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