This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Will Hurricane Irma Cause Retirees to Rethink Moving to Florida?

My first teaching job many years ago was at Michigan State University. It seemed to me and my wife that every one of the "locals" in our neighborhood in East Lansing knew people of Florida because Michiganders liked to retire in Florida. Indeed, we heard stories of entire groups of people relocating there together, often living in mobile homes because that's what they could most readily afford.

Currently, nearly one in five Floridians (19.1%) is aged 65 and older--the highest percentage in the country at the state level and, not surprisingly, the top two counties in the U.S. in terms of the percent aged 65 and older are in Florida (Sumter County--NW of Orlando--at 53% and Charlotte County--NW of Fort Meyers--at 38%). Both counties are very much today in the path of Hurricane Irma. If this were just a one-off event, you might not think about it, but the evidence suggests that global warming is likely to increase the frequency and intensity of these kinds of storms.

It is important to remember as well that population growth in hot states like Florida owes a lot to the advent of air conditioning. Beginning especially in the 1950s, commercial establishments were able to afford air conditioning--so you could leave your hot house and go to the air conditioned restaurant or movie theater. By the 1970s, the price of air conditioning had come down to the point that people were able to install it in their homes--first with window units, and then with larger compressor units. So, we shouldn't be surprised that between 1950 and 2015, as the population of the entire U.S. doubled in size from 152 million to 321 million, the population of Florida increased more than seven-fold, from 2.7 million in 1950 to 20.3 million in 2015. It vaulted from the 17th most populous to the 3rd most populous state--behind only California and Texas (both of which have also benefitted from air conditioning). The only states to have grown at a more rapid rate than Florida, in percentage terms, between 1950 and 2015 are also beneficiaries of air conditioning--Nevada and Arizona.

But, back to the older population more specifically, Florida has a high percentage of older people because people move there to retire. The other top states in terms of the older population--Maine, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Montana, are states where youthful populations are exiting the state, in the process leaving behind the older population to age in place. Thus, the decision of people to migrate from wherever they are (e.g., New York) to Florida to retire may increasingly take into account the potential for deadly storms. Arizona is currently 12th among states in terms of the percent aged 65 and older. Will that increase at Florida's expense?

UPDATE: Here's an example of why air conditioning is a key to well-being in Florida, as reported by CNN:
At least eight nursing home residents have died in Hollywood, Florida, according to city officials. The deaths may be due to the loss of the home's air-conditioning after Hurricane Irma struck Sunday, according to CNN affiliate WPLG.

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