Getting Old: Florida’s Golden Opportunity

Florida is getting older. Whether trends driven by the state’s aging population prove to be good or bad for the economy largely depends on our ability to adapt. Two recent assessments suggest the Sunshine State appears ill-prepared to meet the shifting expectations and needs of Floridians in their Golden Years.

Our first look comes from the Milken Institute’s 2017 release of “Best Cities for Successful Aging.” The study ranks 381 metropolitan areas—100 large and 281 small cities—using 83 measures in nine categories:

  1. General livability (e.g., cost of living, crime rate, economic growth)
  2. Healthcare
  3. Wellness
  4. Financial security
  5. Education
  6. Transportation and convenience
  7. Employment
  8. Living arrangements
  9. Community engagement

Of the 100 large cities evaluated, Florida failed to place a single city in the top 50. Jacksonville leads the state by securing the 63rd position. Gainesville earned boasting rights among small cities as the only Florida metropolitan area in the top 100 with a ranking of 13th.

Such dismal performance isn’t limited to the Milken Institute’s report. Florida dropped from 24th to 30th in the 2017 calculation of the United Health Foundation’s senior health ranking. Florida’s challenges include a high prevalence of excessive drinking, low flu vaccination coverage, and limited availability of home health care workers.

The shortage of health care workers is particularly alarming from a service delivery perspective. According to projections from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, nearly 31% of Florida’s population is expected to be approaching or in retirement (age 60+) by 2035. As a result, all of Florida’s 67 counties will realize a drop in working age population (19 – 64) as a percentage of total population. Nineteen counties will see absolute drops in their working age populations between the 2010 US Census benchmark and 2035. This will reduce the ratio of working age persons to retirement age persons (65+) in Florida from 3.54 – 1 to 2.17 – 1.

Florida League of Cities’ 1st vice president, Gil Ziffer (Tallahassee), believes the changing demographics represent a considerable threat to the state’s economic sustainability: “The handwriting is on the wall. Cities across Florida have an opportunity to provide solutions for our aging population. Housing, transportation needs, community services and public safety—to name a few—are areas we can address to meet the increased demands,” he said.

Government’s challenge can be the private sector’s opportunity. Nothing spurs an economy like gearing up to meet demand. The market-driven opportunities created as a residual of Florida’s natural assets represent a golden opportunity to create jobs while improving the quality of life for the aging.


Dr. Dale Brill is the founder of Thinkspot Inc., a Florida-based public policy research and consulting firm. He has previously served as president of the Florida Chamber Foundation; director of the Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development; and chief marketing officer for VISIT FLORIDA. You can reach Dale by e-mail at