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New York leads in snowbirds moving temporarily to Florida

by Cathy Keen

Snowbirders – who are they exactly and what is their impact on the places they travel to? Nice piece of research from the University of Florida featuring lots of informative statistics on the habits of our snowbirding friends. Interesting thing is, a larger number of Floridians actually leave home for almost three months every year than snowbirders visit the sunshine state. These folk, known as sunbirders, also need house sitters to weather summer’s extremes in their properties. Of course, we are interested in minding snowbirders’ homes in the winter AND sunbirders’ homes in the summer while they’re away. It’s a shame the authors don’t touch on that aspect of the phenomenon of flight…

22 November 2004

GAINESVILLE, Fla. The conventional wisdom is true – the person who winters in Florida before heading back North is most likely to be a New Yorker over 55, a new University of Florida study finds.

‘The typical temporary resident in Florida fits the stereotypical image of the snowbird, the retiree who spends winters in Florida and summers elsewhere, typically in cooler climes,’ said Stan Smith, director of UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, who conducted the research. ‘They tend to be healthier and better off financially than Florida’s permanent residents, they are predominantly white, and most of them do not work.’

New Yorkers accounted for 13.1 percent of Florida’s temporary residents, followed by Michiganders at 7.4 percent, Ohioans at 6.7 percent, Pennsylvanians at 5.8 percent and Canadians at 5.5 percent, the study found. The average length of stay is five months.

Little is known about these residents, but learning more about them is important because they have a tremendous impact on an area’s economy, environment and quality of life, Smith said. And with the aging of the baby boomers, their numbers are likely to increase, he said.

‘Temporary residents use all sorts of goods and services just like permanent residents. They shop at grocery stores, go to movie theaters, fill up their cars with gas, put wear-and -tear on the roads and add to traffic congestion,’ he said. ‘It’s important to have some idea of the number and characteristics of these people for planning purposes, whether you’re a government agency trying to plan for the provision of services or a private business trying to sell something.’

The research was collected through 40 monthly telephone surveys conducted by the Survey Research Center at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The roughly 500 households surveyed each month between September 2000 and December 2003 were selected through random-digit dialing. All respondents were 18 or older.

More than 5 percent of survey respondents in the months of January and February during the three-year period reported they were temporary residents, compared with barely 1 percent in August and September, Smith said. Given Florida’s 7 million households in 2004, these results suggest that about 920,000 temporary residents called the Sunshine State home during the peak winter months compared with 170,000 during the late summer.

Most temporary residents migrated to counties in the southern part of the state. Lee County, in southwest Florida where Fort Myers is located, had the most temporary residents, followed by Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Collier, Broward, Polk, Pinellas, Sarasota, Pasco and Hillsborough counties.

Nearly 64 percent of the temporary residents included in the survey were 55 and older, compared with 32 percent of the state’s permanent residents, Smith said. Older people are drawn primarily by the state’s warm weather and recreational opportunities. However, not all temporary residents are elderly. There also is a large group of young people who come to Florida for college, military service or work-related reasons, many of whom remain in the state for more than six months, he said.

Arizona and south Texas are other locales that have large numbers of temporary residents during the winter months. ‘Almost every state has certain areas, which either during the summer or winter have a large number of temporary residents staying there for one reason or another,’ he said.

Smith, who serves on a U.S. Census Bureau advisory committee, said he advocates the bureau collect survey data on temporary residents. There’s been some interest in the idea and a lot of people see the value in it, he said, but there’s an unlimited amount of information that would be valuable to collect and just so much room on the surveys, he said.

Florida’s temporary residents were less racially and ethnically diverse than permanent residents. Only 5 percent of temporary residents were black and 7 percent Hispanic, compared with 10 percent and 14 percent respectively among permanent residents.

Temporary residents also had higher educational and income levels than those who reside here year-round. Among temporary residents, 43 percent were college graduates, and more than 17 percent had annual household incomes of $100,000 or more, compared with 35 percent and 11 percent respectively of permanent residents, he said. In addition, temporary residents appeared to be healthier, with more than 64 percent rating their health as very good or excellent, while less than 59 percent of permanent residents did so.

Not only do many temporary residents come to Florida each year, but many Floridians also leave home for extended periods of time, Smith said. More than 9 percent of survey respondents – about 1.5 million Floridians – spent at least 30 consecutive days away from home during the previous year, he said. About 17 percent of these went to some other location in the state, while 83 percent went elsewhere, Smith said. The average length of stay away from home was about 2.7 months.

‘The data from the University of Florida’s monthly household survey allowed Professor Smith to study two very important demographic events – the annual flow of nearly 1 million snowbirds to the state and the even larger outflow of Florida residents – that are invisible in most population statistics,’ said Timothy Hogan, a professor emeritus of economics at Arizona State University, who conducted a large-scale study of snowbirds in Arizona in 2002-03. ‘These temporary population movements have significant effects on both the private and public sectors, and Smith’s study provides valuable information about both the size and the characteristics of these phenomena.’

© University of Florida News

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Cathy Keen

About the author: Cathy Keen

Cathy Keen writes for the University of Florida News.