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Florida Faces the Future: Part 4

• Dr. Matthew Ladner

Census Bureau forecasts for Florida show a frightening increase in the youth population and an absolutely alarming increase in the elderly population on the way. This will put quite a squeeze on middle-aged taxpayers of the near future. Florida has the highest percentage of people aged 65 and older today, but it is heading towards something never seen before.

Florida Faces the Future: Part 4

The chart above shows the Census Bureau’s latest projections of state age distributions. Florida is sitting at the top of the chart with a projection of more than a quarter of all Floridians being 65 or older by 2030. In 2010, only 17.8 percent of Floridians were 65 or older. You’ve probably noticed that almost all states are going to be older than the Florida of 2010 by 2030, and even the few who won’t be will still be far older than they are today. Granted that is frightening, but let’s keep our focus on Florida. The Census Bureau projects Florida to go from a 1 in 6 ratio of elderly to non-elderly residents to a ratio of over 1 in 4. Our country hasn’t faced such a high proportion of elderly residents before, so we have no experience in crafting public policy with such an elderly population, but some implications seem clear. First, having more than a quarter of your population at retirement age may create a headwind to economic growth and thus to state revenue growth.

Second, a majority of Medicaid dollars today go to serve the needs of elderly people, who have a much higher level of spending per recipient. Florida has a projected increase in the elderly population of over 4 million between 2010 and 2030. Absent radical changes in how either medical care or Medicaid works (or both), we will have to anticipate a substantially increased demand for health care spending in 2030.

The Census Bureau simultaneously projects that Florida will need to cope with a very large increase in youth population by 2030. Current projections put the increase in Florida residents aged 5-17 at over 1.2 million between 2010 and 2030. All else being equal, an increase of half this size would still create huge spending pressures for more school facilities and personnel at precisely the same time that Florida’s aging population restrains revenue growth and creates enormous pressure for increased health care spending.

So as Florida’s elderly and youth population’s surge in the years ahead, it will be the working age population attempting to hold things together in 2030. The Census Bureau projects that almost half of Florida’s population will either be under 18 or over 65 in 2030 (see Table 5). Given such a small percentage of working-age people forecast, it would be a very good idea to make each and every one of them count.

Florida’s middle-aged taxpayers of 2030 sit in Florida classrooms today. The higher the percentage of middle-aged people with high level math and reading skills in 2030, the better. Unfortunately, despite substantial improvements since the advent of education reform in 1999, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) continues to show that only a minority of Florida students score “Proficient” in math and reading.

Florida Faces the Future: Part 4

Florida Faces the Future: Part 4

Florida achieved these levels of improvement with modest increases in per-pupil spending. The task facing current policymakers will prove still more daunting: to produce even greater improvements without increasing per-pupil spending. Other states have less severe age-demographic problems, but have public school systems that still perform like Florida’s did in the late 1990s. Pity them, but Florida is far from being out of the woods itself.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Florida faces urgent needs to make the provision of public services—especially education and health care—more effective and more cost-effective.

My ESP is telling me, dear reader, that you are thinking “How can we do that?!?” Good question. I wish I had all of the answers to tie up in a bow to give to you, but I don’t. For now, my middle-aged taxpaying mind is worn out from writing and you have been filled with enough dread for one day. Tune in next week for the fifth and final episode and I’ll try to suggest a path forward on the K-12 side of things. I’m not much help on the health care front.

Until then, stay calm—this will all work out somehow. This seems unlikely to end well, but every generation faces challenges. Americans still living today crushed global fascism before facing decades of nuclear brinkmanship in an effort to defeat global communism. I’m sure our parents and grandparents would have gladly exchanged all of that for the mere task of modernizing our education, healthcare, and safety net system. The sooner we address this challenge the better.

About the author

Dr. Matthew Ladner @MatthewLadner

Dr. Matthew Ladner is the Senior Advisor of Policy and Research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. He previously served as Vice President of Research and Goldwater Institute. Prior to joining Goldwater, Dr. Ladner was director of state projects at the Alliance for School Choice. Dr. Ladner has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform. Most recently, Dr. Ladner authored the groundbreaking, original research Turn and Face the Strain: Age Demographic Change and the Near Future of American Education, outlining the future funding crisis facing America’s K-12 public education funding. He also coauthors the American Legislative Exchange Council's annual Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform. Dr. Ladner has testified before Congress, the United States Commission of Civil Rights and numerous state legislative committees. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received both a Masters and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. Dr. Ladner is a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona.