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Fla. population drops for 1st time since ’46

JACKSONVILLE — Florida’s population has declined for the first time in 63 years, state researchers said Monday as they blamed the recession for plunging tax revenues and a steep drop in new residents.

The decline — 58,000 people over the past year — is the first since large numbers of military personnel left the state in 1946 after World War II.

“There have been booms and busts over the time, but this is the first time it has declined,” said Stan Smith, director of the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Florida’s unemployment rate was 10.6 percent in June, the highest level since 1975. The state has lost 392,800 jobs during the past year, continuing a decline that began in 2007, the Agency for Workforce Innovation said.

In Manatee County, the unemployment rate was 11.8 percent in June, and 11.4 percent in Sarasota County.

Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said he believes this is a temporary situation for the state as a result of the economic situation.

“I think it’s obviously a reflection of the times and what’s happening across the country,” Bartz said. “People can’t sell their houses to move down here. Nonetheless, I don’t believe Florida is going to remain in that mode. It’s still an attractive place for people to live and retire, and the future population will continue to grow. It’s certainly a temporary situation.”

The population estimates were produced using data from residential electric hookups, building permits and homestead exemptions, Smith said. The university is expected to release details of city and county populations Wednesday.

Florida’s population is about 18.3 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A recent migration study from United Van Lines reported 4,165 moved out of Florida from January-June 2009, and 3,976 households moved in.

“We’ve been doing the study since 1977, and Florida was all inbound (movings) every year until 2006,” said Jennifer Bonham, spokeswoman for United Van Lines.

Barry Grooms, president of the Manatee Association of Realtors, said part of the reason fewer people are moving to the state is the economy has forced many to postpone retirement.

“I do think it’s a small hiccup because (baby) boomers are still continuing to work right now,” Grooms said. “They thought they’d be retiring here but because of the overall economy, they’re still continuing to work and their retirement, they pretty much lost.”

The population drop has left empty seats in classrooms. The state’s estimated public school enrollment for 2009-10 is down 28,541 from the previous school year, according to the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The future is not all gloom and doom, Smith said. Demographers expect Florida to resume growth again, just not as fast as in the past.

Kathy Roberts, chief executive officer of the Sarasota Association of Realtors, said she is encouraged by recent single-family home sales in Sarasota County.

“Sales of homes in our market have picked up significantly the last several months, with sales up 29 percent in July compared to July one year ago,” Roberts said. “As the economy recovers, I expect to see more inbound buyers, especially with the affordable prices compared to just two to three years ago.”

— Herald Writer Grace Gagliano contributed

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