Like Toyota's bigger-than-expected recall, Florida may need to take more aggressive steps to repair and restructure the state's economy. New U.S. Census estimates out this week show that Americans — long accustomed to moving often and eventually heading to the Sunbelt and Florida — are still pretty much staying right where they are.
That loss of mobility means Florida is not growing much and, in some places, continues to shrink. Among seven Florida metro areas, census figures age 5B show only Tampa Bay and Jacksonville reporting a modest population gain from July 2008 to July 2009. Other areas, including the greater Miami area, Orlando, Fort Myers, Naples and Pensacola, all suffered declines that year.
The reasons may spell longer-term trouble for a Sunshine State where many still believe the economy is sure to rebound to its former glory days built on residential construction and tourism.
Housing prices are still falling in many parts of the country. A national glut of houses for sale makes any relocation effort a longer process. Jobs, too, remain in short supply and likely will become more so before the labor market improves. Employed people are much more likely to stay where they are, hoping the paychecks keep coming.
Don't forget those people who may have planned to retire to Florida but now will work for additional years to rebuild their ravaged retirement savings. That may delay the in-flow Florida especially needs right now.
Mark Mather analyzes the census data for the Population Reference Bureau. "Baby boomers helped fuel housing and population growth in retirement areas earlier in the decade, and now they are playing an important role in the decline," he told the Associated Press.
The double whammy is Florida increasingly is getting branded as the "state most likely to emerge last" from the recession. That may yet turn out to be accurate. But it's not the advertising slogan a growth-starved state wants tattooed on its posterior.
That image of weakness may influence retiree thinking and redirect some of them elsewhere.
Near the start of this recession in late 2007, southeast Florida was ground zero in the state for declining population. As 2008 arrived, shrinking population spread like a plague over to the Naples and Marco Island area in southwestern Florida, then extended north to Fort Myers. On Florida's east coast, declining population expanded up Interstate 95 to the Daytona Beach area. By late 2008, it had spread to include the once-hot Orlando market.
For now, the latest census estimates show, Tampa Bay (now with a 13.1 percent unemployment rate) and Jacksonville (12.1 percent unemployed) remain positive-growth markets. Barely.
New figures on Florida's statewide, metro and county unemployment will be released Friday. Most jobless rates will be heading in one direction — up — at least for the bulk of this year.
Florida has an opportunity to fine-tune and diversify a lagging economy. If the state stalls and waits for better days, economic leaders will revert to old habits and say "why rock the boat" since things look so fine?
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.