If you can recall the Florida of the 1950s, you remember a small-population state with only three urban areas that could be called “cities.” Miami, Tampa-St Petersburg and Jacksonville have now been joined by fast-growing communities like Orlando, Ft Lauderdale, Ocala and Kissimmee. For decades, our state’s growth has seemed phenomenal, beyond reasonable expectations. Many people have predicted that this growth would slow or end, but that is not happening.
The pandemic of 2020 has actually sped this trend. From July 2019 to July 2020, Florida is estimated to have added 241,256 new residents. Some estimates project state population to reach 26 million by the year 2030. This would make the state of Florida bigger than the nation of Australia. What does this mean for the current and future senior residents of the Sunshine State?
To begin, seniors cannot complain too much about Florida’s growth without seeming hypocritical. After all, retirees and seniors account for a big part of that trend. Florida not only leads the nation in senior migration, its total of over 63,000 seniors moving in was greater than the next three states combined in 2020.
What makes Florida so attractive to retirees and seniors, and will this continue as the state grows, grows and grows? Let’s look at some of the factors we know about and think about the future.
Low taxes, especially for seniors
Florida has no income tax, no estate or “death tax” and real estate taxes in most areas are reasonable. There is no intangibles tax levied on financial assets like stocks and bonds and Florida does not tax retirement income from pensions or Social Security. These tax havens are especially valuable to seniors, who have intentionally moved assets to the state to avoid taxation up north. How secure is this situation? After all, 41 of the 50 states do tax income in some way; might some future politicians decide that Florida must tax these personal income sources?
No, it is not at all likely. Most of this tax protection comes not from laws written by legislators and signed by governors. It is written into the Florida state constitution and can be changed only by a vote of the people. This would require a 60% majority of all voters, something just short of impossible. However, real estate taxes are largely a local matter and local officials have a good deal of control. Parts of Florida have increased real estate tax rates sharply over the past decade.
This situation has made areas like Dade, Broward and Palm Beach less attractive to the tax-minded seniors, but believe it or not, there are many areas of Florida where these costs are very reasonable, especially compared to those “up north” states.
Cost of living
Historically, Florida has enjoyed lower-than-average living costs, but that advantage has dropped to just about average. No doubt, the increased population has raised the cost of housing and services faster than otherwise. That will probably continue with more growth, but it will not be uniform. Areas like south Florida will probably outpace the average, while rural and semi-rural, less dense areas will remain relative bargains.
Health care availability
Florida is now home to 10 medical schools, numerous teaching hospitals, VA clinics and large group practices like the Mayo Clinic. It is also home to a large and growing senior population that needs specialized care. This is going to increase demand for senior services of all kinds, and how well we can keep pace is uncertain. Florida’s older-than-average population will mean higher rates of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and numerous age-related problems. This will especially tax the medical care system. The availability of senior-centered medical care will become a concern, and one of the factors to be considered when locating.
Florida’s 55+ communities
These are often the number one choice for retirees, and they will grow in number and size. The Villages, located on thousands of acres in three counties was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States from 2010 to 2017. Often, these communities offer smaller, more affordable housing, suited to the needs of seniors. Many are self-contained, seeking to provide all the needs of their residents. These communities may become models for future development providing services like self-driving cars and telemedicine capabilities.
State services for seniors
Take a look at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs website. It lists over 30 special service programs aimed at seniors. These range from legal services to Alzheimer’s care. These programs cost money and the demand for them is growing even faster than Florida’s population. Our growth is going to stress some of these services to the breaking point. Florida’s seniors should begin to take a more active interest in state programs that protect and benefit them.