Weekly Wrap: Florida's Population Shrinks

Florida, which has always struggled to manage its growth, has stopped growing.

University of Florida demographers said Friday (Aug. 14) that the state lost about 50,000 residents between April 2008 and April 2009. It was the first decline in 63 years.

The recession is mostly to blame for the drop. Florida, like many states, has been squeezed by the housing and credit crunch and decline in wealth. More than most states, Florida's economic base depends on retirees moving there, attracted by the favorable climate and low taxes. That trend stopped, the demographers told the St. Petersburg Times , because out-of-staters could not sell their homes and move to Florida or could not afford the down payment.

Many immigrants also moved back to their countries because they could not find work in Florida's slumping construction industry, the demographers said.

The Census Bureau pegs Florida's population at 18.3 million, fourth largest. The state demographers said they believe that population growth will resume starting next year, with 20 million residents living there by 2016.

Florida was also in the news this week for another reason. Republican Gov. Charlie Crist was blamed by his critics for spending the state's share of federal highway stimulus dollars too slowly.

A U.S. House committee reported that Florida was slowest to spend its highway stimulus money, followed by Hawaii and South Carolina. Wyoming, New Hampshire and Oklahoma were the fastest, the committee said. Florida transportation official Kevin Thibault said other states channeled money into projects that were already financed from state dollars, according to the Miami Herald . Thibault also said the state is spending money on large projects that take more time to get started.

"I did not vote for Florida to be last of 50 when it comes to stimulus dollar spending," said U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democrat from Miami who is challenging Crist next year in the U.S. Senate race. Crist did not respond, referring questions to Thibault.

Utah has a new governor this week and - no surprise - he's talking about reviving the economy. Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) was sworn in Tuesday (Aug. 11), replacing Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), whom President Obama named ambassador to China.

"My first and highest priority will be the economy here in Utah," Herbert said in his inaugural speech. "A state with sufficient employment opportunities is a state that can expect economic stability… If we can get the economy right, most everything else falls into place."

Huntsman, meantime, gave an exit interview to the Salt Lake Tribune.

New Hampshire joined a growing list of states that have enacted legislation requiring large companies to notify workers and the state before announcing mass layoffs or plant closings. Gov. John Lynch (D) signed into law on Monday (Aug. 10) a bill that stops large companies from shutting down suddenly and denying workers pay and benefits. It would require the companies to give at least 60 days' notice.

The legislation bolsters a similar federal law . New Hampshire's law, which takes effect Jan. 1, applies to businesses with 75 or more employees; federal law is 100 or more employees.

California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin also have similar state laws.