Media coverage of the oil spill’s effect on the Gulf focusing on tourist income lost by the waterfront towns – with footage of empty beaches, restaurants and T-shirt shops – dominates the news. Interviews with devastated business owners are heart rending. But they always end with references to somehow hanging on until “things get back to normal.”
Trouble is, things are not going to “normalize.” Not for the Panhandle of Florida, and probably not for the rest of the state, either.
Projections suggest that Florida can expect oil all along its west coast, and possibly throughout the Keys and up the east coast as well. Yet even before BP’s well began spewing crude, pressures within the state’s economy were building. It was an explosive situation awaiting a match.
Oily beaches and dying wildlife are likely that match.
Take unemployment. Statewide, it ballooned from 3% in 2006 to a peak of 12.3% in February 2010. Though it’s backed off, it remains in double-digit territory at 11.2%. ”Officially” – though official numbers understate the problem. Illegal immigrants, some 4.5% of Florida’s population, aren’t counted; the long-term unemployed and aging workers are regularly purged, even if they’re still looking for work.
This in a state already confronted with the worst of the coming healthcare/taxation crunch. It has the second oldest population in the nation, and as its citizens retire, their earnings fall off, causing tax revenues to drop. At the same time, healthcare bills rise, stressing social service budgets.
Florida is ground zero for Baby Boomer demographics. With 600 seniors for every 1,000 workers now, and the number trending inexorably higher, soon every employed person in the state will essentially have to adopt one senior to care for out of his or her paycheck.
Housing? Naturally, rising unemployment amplifies the difficulties of maintaining homeownership. With further negative effects from the oil, we can only expect the situation to worsen. A tsunami of defaults and foreclosures – and bank failures – would not be a surprise.
Florida is mortgaged to the hilt. It ranks second only to California in total securitized non-agency mortgage loans, 10% of the national total. Of those, half are 60 days or more delinquent, or 16% of all such mortgage delinquencies in the country, the highest ratio anywhere.
[Florida is just one small gear in the United States’ broken economic machinery. The Casey Report regularly analyzes where the economy is going and how savvy investors can protect themselves from the inevitable fallout. One of the editors’ favorite investments for 2010 (and beyond) is betting on rising interest rates – a true no-brainer. Read more here.]