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920,000 'snowbirds'


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Study reveals 920,000 'snowbirds' move to Florida during winter season

The Associated Press

Posted November 22 2004, 3:54 PM EST

GAINESVILLE -- Florida's seasonal residents are easy to find in traffic jams, at early bird specials and on local golf courses, but counting them has been a challenge to state demographers who on Monday produced Florida's first official count of ``snowbirds'' in seven years.

They found that in the height of the winter season, the state is home 920,000 seasonal residents, that's compared to the 170,000 temporary residents who are in Florida during the late summer.



Florida has a total permanent population of 17.5 million.

The Florida snowbird is likely to be a New Yorker, over the age of 55. And the study found that as a whole, seasonal residents of retirement age are healthier and wealthier than retirees who call Florida home year-round.

``I wouldn't say there are many surprises,'' said Stan Smith, director of UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, which conducted the research. ``It tends to confirm things that you had already guessed, but didn't have the data on before.''

Florida has had a hard time counting snowbirds mostly because the U.S. Census in its surveys doesn't consider the phenomenon of seasonal residency. But as the Baby Boom generation ages, Smith noted, keeping track of seasonal residents will become more important as people have more money to maintain homes in more than one place.

The last time the university attempted to count snowbirds was in 1997, when it found more than 970,000 in a study called ``The Florida Elusive Snowbird.'' The number of snowbirds has dropped since then, coinciding with the decline in birthrates of the 1930s.

Smith, who serves on a U.S. Census Bureau advisory committee, advocates that the bureau collect survey data on temporary residents. He said the data is important for governments and businesses nationwide in planning how to provide goods and services to a population that's not in one place all year long.

In this year's study, New Yorkers accounted for 13.1 percent of Florida's temporary residents, followed by people from Michigan at 7.4 percent, Ohio at 6.7 percent and Pennsylvania at 5.8 percent. Canadians accounted for 5.5 percent of the snowbirds.

The seasonal residents were also more likely to be college graduates than full-time Floridians. Forty-three percent of the snowbirds had college degrees and 35 percent had incomes of more than $100,000 compared to 35 percent of state residents who are college educated and 11 percent whose incomes are more than six-figures.

The snowbirds stay for an average of five months.

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.

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.

Smith noted that not all of Florida's temporary residents are retirees -- those over the age of 55 accounted for more than two-thirds of the seasonal residents, but the remainder were college students, people on temporary work assignments and those in the military serving part of their duty here.

The study also documented the reverse of the snowbird migration -- 1.5 million Floridians leave the state on average for at least three months each year, some of them to spend summers in cooler climates.

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