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Retiring Baby Boomers give Florida a cold shoulder

To match feature FINANCIAL/RETIREES
To match feature FINANCIAL/RETIREES

By Michael Connor

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida just isn't what it used to be for retirees.

Meet Patti Keagy, an American Baby Boomer, who is looking at other possible retirement destinations.

"My mother says her generation and other people that she knew made a mistake. They sold everything and they moved down to Florida," said Keagy, a resident of a Boston suburb.

"And then they realized, 'We're down here, we're on our own, we're by ourselves, and it's boring or lonely.' And they didn't want to be away from family," added Keagy, who is 60.

Her choices -- and the choices of others -- matter for Florida, Arizona, the Carolinas and other states that long for retired migrants -- and their steady incomes. Their spending on housing, healthcare and entertainment has created jobs and given rise to pockets of Sun Belt affluence.

The demographics -- well, they are a-changing, according to the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an Albany, New York-based think tank. It pointed out that for the first time in 2009, more people left New York state for North Carolina than for Florida.

"A lot of states view that segment favorably and want to attract retirees," said Stan Smith, a specialist in population studies at the University of Florida. "There're lots of places in North Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia with golf communities. Those places are trying to attract retirees."

The stakes are high for state economies.

Florida, whose economy is reliant on newcomers of all ages, was stung early and severely by the recession. The unemployment rate in Florida peaked at 12 percent last year and now stands at 10.7 percent, compared with the national jobless rate of 9.1 percent.

The slowdown in retiree migration, as well as an overall drop in population growth, suggests Florida may take longer than other states in getting its economic footing back.

Between 2000 and 2009, New Yorkers migrating to the Sunshine State delivered $11 billion of new net income to Florida, according to an analysis of federal tax filings by the Empire Center for New York State Policy.

During 2009, 19,909 people with average adjusted gross incomes of $33,351 moved from Florida to New York, but the 23,654 New Yorkers migrating to Florida had average incomes of $58,622, according to the Albany think tank's study.

BOOMER FINANCES NOT ALL SUNNY

The retirement outlook is now clouded, at best, for many of the 79 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. With few holding traditional employer pensions, Baby Boomers are much more reliant than their parents on savings and home values that shrank by $7.8 trillion in the Great Recession.

The oldest Boomers lost an estimated $1 trillion in savings between the 2007 market peak and the lows of 2009, according to a Boston College study of 401(k) accounts.

The study by Alicia Munnell, director of the college's Center for Retirement Research, and researcher Jean-Pierre Aubry, said much of the losses of Boomers born in the late 1940s and early 1950s were recovered in 2010.

But younger Boomers and workers born in 1965 or later -- who missed the U.S. stock market run-ups of the 1980s and 1990s -- will need decades of very fat investment returns or will have to save much more aggressively than older Boomers.

LOWER HOME VALUES SHRINK HORIZONS

Wealth advisers typically tell Boomers to work longer, save more and reduce planned spending to offset the shrunken savings that many had hoped would carry them to Florida.

"They aren't going anywhere," former Illinois school administrator Maura West, 65, said of friends near retirement. "I think the economy has a lot to do with it. There is a tremendous amount of fear of uprooting and maybe not getting the value out of your home that you thought you would have gotten. I think that has impacted people's mobility."

West said contemporaries in the Chicago suburbs vaguely discuss possible retirement in Arizona or California. But she will remain in Illinois's Will County. She may take holidays in Europe and a side trip or two to Florida.

Florida, which was for at least six decades a champion in luring retirees, is now only a second choice for migrating New Yorkers, according to the Empire Center study.

"Florida accounted for 35 percent of New York's net migration loss in 2005, but by 2009, its share had dropped to 11 percent," the Empire Center said. "That year, for the first time on record, New York lost more residents to North Carolina than to Florida."

The tax data reflect the slowdown, with Florida's added income flows from migrating New Yorkers peaking in 2005 and declining in the years afterward. The state does not collect a personal income tax.

Next week, Florida finance officials and policy-makers are expected to report that state revenues in the next fiscal year will be substantially more than $1 billion below forecast.

"The slowdown in Florida is the result of the national recession," UF's Smith told Reuters. "Florida, more than other states, overbuilt. It slowed down a great deal over the last three or four years, particularly from 2008 to 2010. Those were some the worst growth years since the 1940s."

(Reporting by Michael Connor; Additional reporting by Barbara

Liston in Orlando; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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