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Florida is losing its status as a middle-class boomer retiree haven

Florida is losing its status as a middle-class boomer retiree haven


Imagine the Golden Girls trading out their famed Miami home for a place in Alabama. Although they’re said to “travel down the road and back again” for each other, it’s difficult to see the girls still going wild outside of the Sunshine State. But these days, it might be what a multi-generational house of retirees would have to do to make ends meet.

Affordability, sunshine, and endless golf courses have long made Florida a retirement haven for everyone from Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional parents to an entire swath of baby boomers who have found their own slice of rumored swinger’s paradise at The Villages. But as the state becomes too popular for its own good thanks to the number of remote workers and ultra-wealthy individuals who decamped there during the pandemic, many retirees are finding themselves priced out. 

Some are pivoting their dreams from Florida to Baldwin County, Alabama, for better cost savings, reports The Wall Street Journal’s Cecilie Rohwedder. “You just get a bigger bang for your buck here,” Lawanna Sharpless, a real estate agent, told her. Retirees said the area—located in southwestern Alabama—offers the same warm weather and nice beaches that Florida does.

Baldwin County, home to some of the country’s lowest median property tax rates, was Alabama’s fastest growing county in the state from 2010 to 2020, per Census data. Its population increased by 3% in 2022 alone, compared to 1% in South Florida’s Broward County. That’s partly because young professionals who moved to Florida during the pandemic are displacing the retirees who live there, Ken H. Johnson, an economist at Florida Atlantic University, told The Journal.  

So too are wealthy Americans, who were moving to Florida at four times the rate than other states heading into 2020. Even now, Florida attracts more ultra-wealthy households than anywhere else in the U.S. 

It’s all driving up housing costs (much like we’ve seen elsewhere in the country during the remote worker exodus); home prices in Florida increased by 73.5% over the past five years. While the housing market is generally less extreme than it was in the early pandemic boom, Florida’s prices were still up by 3.2% in March year-over-year—although Redfin data shows they seem to be stabilizing. The median sale price of a home in Florida is $400,200, around the same as the national median—but in 2019, Florida homes typically cost less than the typical national home.

And as inflation swept across the nation, prices for everything from car insurance to gas crept up, making Floridian retirees who are already on a budget nervous. In Tampa Bay, inflation outpaced the national average last year.

“If I were looking to retire now, I couldn’t move here. I’m sure there are places that are still more livable—but they’re not in the Tampa area,” Alfred Ortwein, age 79, told the Tampa Bay Times. He said that his friends living in Delaware weren’t even considering retiring in Florida, instead looking at Tennessee or Alabama.

Finding an affordable place to retire may be more important than ever for boomers, who are mostly leaning on personal savings rather than a reliable pension. Many were getting wiped out by inflation and a volatile stock market. As Axios’ Felix Salmon puts it, they’re entering a “retirement minefield.”

While Florida still made WalletHub’s top 10 cheapest states to retire in, it did so by the skin of its teeth (ranking 9 out of 10). Alabama reigned supreme in terms of price, but lagged behind when it came to quality of life and health care.

For those retirees who may prioritize such factors over affordability, Florida still remains a hot destination. After all, the state netted more than 78,000 retirees in 2021—three times as many as the second most popular state (Arizona), a recent SmartAsset report finds. But they may only end up moving there to find out it’s a lot more expensive than they thought.


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