Sunbelt markets are experiencing slower population growth because older Americans are staying put in family homes, according new Census estimates released yesterday.
The housing downturn and the recession have combined keep older workers working longer and to keep them in homes that are difficult to sell in today's buyers' market.
The Census population figures show that the annual growth of retirement-destination counties slipped from 3.1 percent between 2000 and 2007 during housing boom, to 1.7 percent between 2007 and 2009, despite the large number of baby boomers who are reaching retirement age.
A total of 126 of the 440 counties that attract large numbers of people 60 and older lost population during the recession, many of them in Sunbelt areas such as Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and California. In Florida, 33 of its 43 retirement counties grew more slowly, while seven others, led by Daytona Beach in Volusia County, lost population.
"Baby boomers helped fuel housing and population growth in retirement areas earlier in the decade, and now they are playing an important role in the decline," Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau, who analyzed the retirement figures, told the Associated Press.
Overall, fewer people are migrating to wider spaces in the Sun Belt in a reversal from earlier in the decade. Once booming in population due to the housing bubble, many of these areas are now experiencing sharply slower growth.
For the first time in decades, more people moved out of Las Vegas than moved in, due to foreclosures and a depressed tourism industry, while Orlando, Fla., had more people move out for a second year in a row. Also seeing decreases in residents moving in were Phoenix, Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C.
In contrast, Cleveland and Philadelphia stanched some population losses, while New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago saw gains. Boosted by a burst of federal hiring, the Washington, D.C., region had more residents move in than move out for the first time in seven years.
"The migration slowdown has not let up," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who analyzed the data. "The decade that began with 9/11, a dot-com bust, then a housing boom and bust, and more recently the Great Recession, has turned traditional snowbelt to Sunbelt migration on its head."
"It remains to be seen when and where a turnaround in the nation's unforeseen migration patterns will take place," he said.
One exception was Texas, a Sunbelt state that saw substantial gains due to a stronger labor market and immigrant growth. For the second year in a row, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston ranked first and second among metros with the most numerical gains, each adding more than 140,000 people.