For those with student debt, Florida a poor place to flourish

Florida's economy is one of the least friendly to residents with education loans to repay.
Florida faces a challenge in keeping young college graduates with student debt. With its job market with below-average wages and an increasingly expensive cost of living, young and skilled workers may be inclined to look elsewhere. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times (2014)
Florida faces a challenge in keeping young college graduates with student debt. With its job market with below-average wages and an increasingly expensive cost of living, young and skilled workers may be inclined to look elsewhere.SCOTT KEELER | Times (2014)
Published August 10 2015
Updated August 11 2015

If Florida wants to recruit and keep young college graduates, it may have to do something about their burden of student debt.

A new study examining how state economies help or hurt residents coping with student debt finds Florida ranks among the least friendly states.

The Sunshine State ranks 40th among states and the District of Columbia based on factors ranging from the average size of student debt and the proportion of students with debt to the share of students with loans in default and the jobless rate for residents ages 25 to 34.

Put simply, Florida falls into the lowest ranks because its residents with student loans tend to have higher levels of such debt and higher default rates. They also face a job market in Florida with below-average wages in a state that is an increasingly expensive place to live.

Burdened over time, debt-laden residents are forced to hold off on larger purchases, such as homes, and appear to marry and start families later — effectively delaying their contributions to growing the economy. Florida's rising real estate and rental costs also require residents to devote a higher percentage of their wages to cover housing costs.

The study, by the financial data website WalletHub, says young adults living in Mississippi, Rhode Island and Connecticut feel the weight of their college debt the most, while residents of Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota are the least concerned about their student loans.

"This is the first time in U.S. history that student loan debt exceeds credit card debt," Timothy Wolfe, director of student financial aid and scholarships at the University of Nevada in Reno, told WalletHub. "Students should be cautious about their student loan debt because it can become a lifelong issue."

The study findings also underscore Florida's challenge of growing its corps of young and skilled workers, a priority so often cited by area economic development officials. Those encumbered with student debt may look elsewhere where jobs pay more and the cost of living is less.

As further evidence, the Wallet­Hub analysis finds Florida ranks 43rd in homeownership among adults between the ages of 25 and 34 — just the age group the state says it so eager to preserve.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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