TALLAHASSEE — Since World War II, Florida has beckoned retirees looking to spend their golden years in the sun. The steady stream has made Florida’s population the oldest in the nation.
Now, Florida is headed for an even grayer future in the Baby Boomer retirement era, state economists and demographers predict. The consequences: worker shortages and severe strains on public pensions and government services.
By 2030, more than one in four state residents will be 65 or older — or 26 percent, compared with 17 percent today, the University of Florida Bureau for Business and Economic Research says. Over the next two decades, researchers say, Florida’s senior population will account for almost 60 percent of the state’s population growth, and swell to more than 6 million.
In recent weeks, state economists have been warning legislators that as Baby Boomers retire and not enough working-age residents take their place, they’ll have to deal with the fallout. As one report put it, “Worker shortages will become the norm.”
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“Florida is the grayest state in the nation; that’s going to be a big challenge for us as we move forward,” Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist, told lawmakers recently. She said the pool of workers for labor-oriented and high-skill jobs, from construction workers to engineers, will shrink.
“As people exit the work force, they are not going to be fully replaced by new workers,” she said. “That’s going to be the first time we’ve ever faced that situation in Florida.”
All the projections are based on historical migration patterns, but they point to an increasingly aged population. Over the next two decades, 80 million Baby Boomers born from 1946 to 1964 are expected to retire, which will place a severe strain on Social Security and Medicare.
Many will head to Florida, as they have been doing for decades. Drawn by affordable living, air-conditioned homes and planned communities like Century Village, Florida’s retiree population steadily surged over the past half-century, going from 8.6 percent of the population in 1950 to 17.6 percent in 2000.
The numbers are set to balloon even more, reports the UF study, which was commissioned by the Legislature. Florida’s current retiree population — 3.3 million residents 65 or older — will jump to 4.6 million in 2020 and 6.3 million in 2030, the study projects. That far outstrips the expected growth rate among working-age residents.
“It’s mostly due to the shift in the U.S. age structure, the aging of the Baby Boom generation, which was huge — much larger than those born in the previous years or the following years,” said Stan Smith, who leads the UF research department.