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Debt crisis frustrates area residents

WASHINGTON — With the clock ticking down, our leaders still haven't cut a deal on the debt ceiling. Boynton Beach retiree Gerald Levine, 80, believes he knows exactly who's to blame. The problem is: it's a long list.

"If I had my druthers, I'd fire everybody in Washington," he said Wednesday. "Here we are, two weeks away from a default, which would be an economic disaster of immeasurable proportion, and they think it's a joke."

Levine's view may seem drastic, yet a new poll shows that Americans as a whole have little confidence in our elected officials to lead during this financial crisis.

A third or fewer Americans have even a fair amount of confidence in any of the top five congressional leaders, in a Pew Research/Washington Post poll. President Obama made out a little better with 48 percent of those surveyed expressing a fair amount or a great deal of confidence in his ability to broker a deal to stave off default.

The debt deadlock isn't just affecting the way we view our leaders. It's affecting the way we the view the country's economic prospects.

Last month, just as talk of debt ceiling began to heat up, Florida's Consumer Sentiment fell to the lowest levels since the BP oil spill seemed destined to destroy miles of Sunshine State beaches. Before that, the last time confidence fell this low was in 2008 as Lehman Brothers was collapsing and "the financial world was unraveling," said Chris McCarty, director of Bureau of Economic and Business Research at University of Florida.

A new reading is due out next week, and McCarty expects it to fall again - with good reason.

Few states can claim a bigger stake in the deficit debate than Florida. The Sunshine State ranks second in the nation in Medicare clients, with nearly 3.4 million residents receiving benefits. It also ranks second in Social Security recipients with nearly 3.8 million. Both programs are slated to take a hit in comprehensive plans being floated around Congress.

"If you're a senior and you're on a fixed income, it becomes difficult for you to look ahead and say 'Well, I'm going to be better off next year,' " McCarty said.

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Debt crisis frustrates area residents - Palm Beach Post - July 20, 2011

Republicans in Washington, Tallahassee push tax breaks to create Florida jobs


Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Republicans in Congress are betting that tax breaks and government spending cuts will spark widespread hiring in their job-starved state.

Some early signs indicate the bet might pay off, as companies expand or trickle into Florida to take advantage of tax refunds and low corporate tax rates while tapping a huge pool of unemployed job seekers. Business promoters appreciate the help, but acknowledge anything politicians can do is dwarfed by the natural forces of the marketplace.

"It's a hundred jobs here, 50 jobs there, it just keeps adding up," Scott boasted in an interview while touting Florida's employment-generating efforts to a recent gathering of business leaders in Washington. "The Legislature gave me more authority to make this happen. There's a lot of enthusiasm. People are excited."

Florida Republicans, propelled by the tea-party movement, are pushing similar tactics in Congress. They hope President Barack Obama and Republican leaders will strike a budget deal on debt reduction that will whack federal spending, fend off tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, and clear a path for targeted tax incentives benefiting small businesses.

"I have never met a job creator who told me they are looking for a state with high taxes and burdensome regulations," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said on the Senate floor this week. "If we do it the right way, [we will] lower everybody's tax rate so people have more money in their pockets to spend on the economy, to grow their business or start a new business. Because that's how jobs are created."

Economists remain skeptical that tax incentives alone will prompt businesses to begin hiring in great numbers. They say tax cuts in recent decades have had limited impact on the creation of jobs.

"Companies are already sitting on record amounts of cash, but they are not using that cash to create jobs," said Chris McCarty, consumer survey director at the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "So I'm not clear how creating breaks that send them more cash necessarily translates into jobs."

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Republicans in Washington, Tallahassee push tax breaks to create Florida jobs - - July 16, 2011

Florida consumers' funk hurts economy

Florida's consumers are financially queasy.

For two years, they have bobbed along in a sea of anxiety. Shaken by job losses and sagging home values, their unease is reflected in the monthly Consumer Sentiment reports produced by the University of Florida's Survey Research Center.

The numbers reveal a population stuck in a recessionary funk. For 24 months, the index has hovered near 70, well below the 80s and 90s registered during good times.

Three times in the past two years the index rose briefly into the high 70s – suggesting Floridians were finally beginning to feel better – but those gains proved as durable as a soap bubble.

Now the figure is back down to 66, after falling to 68 in April and May.

"We're sort of stuck," said Chris McCarty, the survey's director. "There's no clear direction yet for this."

And that's bad news for everyone, because consumers drive the Florida and overall U.S. economy. They account for about two-thirds of all U.S. economic activity, spurring demand for goods and services.

The economy is affected by a host of complicated factors – the stock market, international money policy, prevailing interest rates – but, ultimately, much of the nation's fiscal health comes down to a Consumer Sentiment game.

When people feel secure and upbeat, they spend, creating demand. When there's adequate and sustained demand, businesses expand and add jobs. When jobs are plentiful, consumers feel confident and spend.

In the past year, Florida's month-over-month Consumer Sentiment Index has fallen seven times and remained flat twice. It's improved just three times. Generally, the index has shown little variation, hanging out in the high 60s or low 70s. The recession's low point was in June 2008, when the index plunged to 58.

McCarty wonders if Floridians have settled into a "new normal" – acclimating to a level of confidence significantly lower than what they've expressed in the past. And while the index can swing dramatically based on current events – an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a tsunami in Japan – McCarty said Florida's persistently low numbers reflect problems that play themselves out over a longer period of time.

"Here, it's a function of the jobless recovery, and the fact that home values haven't come back yet," he said. "Those are things that go directly to a person's sense of wealth."

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Florida consumers' funk hurts economy - Orlando Sentinel - July 10, 2011

Smaller checks for government workers

State budget cuts will begin draining millions of dollars out of the local economy this month as government employees see their paychecks shrink.

The average government worker in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties will lose $1,151 annually as the state, for the first time since 1974, requires workers to help cover their own pension costs.

Republican state leaders decided to shift 3 percent of wages to cover pension costs as part of their plan to balance this year's budget and because they said government workers should be treated more like those in the private sector.

Recent surveys by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic Research indicate that Consumer Sentiment slid throughout the spring, a fact researcher Chris McCarty attributes in part to pessimism by state and local government workers facing pay cuts. They make up 7 percent of the state's workforce.

"We're not just talking about people in Tallahassee here. That 3 percent affects lots and lots of people at all levels across the state," McCarty noted.

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Smaller checks for government workers - Herald-Tribune - July 9, 2011

Orange expected to lead Florida growth

Emptiness is what people see today when they drive through the monogrammed iron gates of Lake Drawdy Reserve in east Orange County. There are paved cul-de-sacs, lakefront lots and fancy frosted-glass streetlights. But nobody lives there.

Thirty years from now, they will likely see 28 upscale homes occupied by young families, residents from abroad, refugees from coastal counties, in-migrants from other states and well-to-do retirees.

Orange County is expected to lead the state in growth for the next 30 years, adding nearly 670,000 residents by 2040, according to the latest projections from theUniversity of Florida.

The new projections are the first based on the 2010 census. They show Orange County outpacing Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties, while Osceola County is predicted to add more people than Broward County.

"The expectation is that eventually we will get out of this recession and things will return more to normal," said Stan Smith, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at theUniversity of Florida.

To Orange County, normal means about a third of its growth will come from the natural increase of more people being born than dying. Central Florida's population has always been relatively young compared with that of the state, where only 18 percent of population growth comes from births over deaths. Some of this is because of the area's tourism-based jobs, which attract young people, and its growing Hispanic population, which tends to have larger families, Smith said.

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Orange expected to lead Florida growth - Orlando Sentinel - July 10, 2011

Consumer Sentiment falls again amid likely worries about Social Security, Medicare

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumer Sentiment among Floridians declined for the fourth time in five months — falling to 66 in June — as the U.S. economy continues to sputter, according to a new University of Florida survey.

“Floridians appear to be growing concerned about the short-run health of the U.S. economy,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “As the deadline to adjust the debt ceiling approaches, some Floridians, particularly seniors, may be anticipating cuts to Social Security and Medicare which will likely have to be part of any long-term deficit reduction solution. Others may have concerns about raising the debt ceiling.”

Four of the five index components the survey measures decreased. The largest decline was in perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year, which fell seven points to 61. Perceptions of personal financial situation expected a year from now fell one point to 74, perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years fell one point to 72 and confidence in purchasing big-ticket items such as cars and appliances dropped four points to 70. The only component to increase was perceptions of personal financial situation now compared to a year ago, which rose one point, to 53.

The declines among senior citizens surveyed were significant with possible cuts to Social Security and Medicare looming. Confidence among those aged 60 and over fell by an average of 7.25 points in four index components. Confidence in purchasing big-ticket items fell 11 points to 68, perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year fell eight points to 55, perceptions of personal financial situation expected a year from now fell six points to 59 and perceptions of personal finances now compared to a year ago dropped four points to 45.

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Consumer Sentiment falls again amid likely worries about Social Security, Medicare - University of Florida News - June 28, 2011

More on this topic:

Floridians’ Consumer Sentiment declines in June - South Florida Business Journal - June 28, 2011

Florida remains glum about economy - Miami Herald - June 28, 2011

Consumer Sentiment dips: What's up with the economy? - Sun Sentinal - June 28, 2011

Home prices, Consumer Sentiment fall - St. Petersburg Times - June 28, 2011

Florida's Consumer Sentiment dips for fourth time in five months - - June 28, 2011

Consumer Sentiment slips in South Florida, where home values aren’t rising as in other metro areas - Palm Beach Post - June 29, 2011


UF study sees million-plus in Lee

More than 1 million people are projected to be living in Lee County within 25 years, according to a study released Monday by the University of Florida.

That revelation comes even though the statistics show that the state’s population growth has slowed to its lowest level in more than 60 years.

Still, said Stan Smith, director of the university’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, “there still will be pretty substantial growth.”

The University of Florida projection sets Lee’s population at 1,016,900 in 2035, a 75 percent increase over the 618,754 counted in last year’s census. And in the next three decades, Lee is predicted to be No. 4 in total population gain (467,846), behind only Orange, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.

“This is basically an extrapolation of previous trends,” Smith said. He said he and his UF team use an historical base over a 15-year period to arrive at their predictions as well as birth rates, death rates and in-state migration, among other criteria.

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UF study sees million-plus in Lee - News-Press - June 13, 2011

UF: Florida population soars in century’s first decade, but rate is slowing

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida was again one of the country’s leaders in population growth in the last decade, but the growth rates over the past few years have been among the lowest in the state’s history, according to a new study by the University of Florida.

Florida’s permanent resident population increased by more than 2.8 million between 2000 and 2010 — an increase of 17.6 percent to 18,801,310. That mark was the third-largest numeric increase and the eighth-largest percentage increase in the country. However, the growth rate lagged behind previous periods for the state, and projections are the growth rate will steadily decline through 2040.

“Growth rates varied considerably during the decade, not only from county to county but also from year to year,” said Stan Smith, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at UF’s Warrington College of Business Administration.

“Fueled by an expanding economy and a booming housing market, population increases from 2003 to 2006 were among the largest in Florida’s history,” he said. “As economic growth slowed and the housing market cooled later in the decade, population growth declined as well, reaching its lowest levels in more than 60 years.”

In the decades from 1970 to 2010, Florida saw annual population increases that averaged between 280,000 and 320,000. The projected annual growth is 252,000 for 2010 to 2020 and 255,000 for 2020 to 2030. The projection drops considerably for 2030 to 2040 with an annual growth of 220,000.

Smith said the slow economic recovery and a dismal job market have hampered population growth.

“Jobs are a major reason people come to Florida,” Smith said. “But Florida lost about 1 million jobs from 2007 to 2010. As the economy recovers, population growth will increase as well.”

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UF: Florida population soars in century’s first decade, but rate is slowing - UF News - June 13, 2011

Special Note:

"Projections of Florida Population by County, 2010-2040," Florida Population Studies, Volume 44, Bulletin 159, June 2011 produced by the UF Bureau of Economic and Business Research is now available for order in the Population section of BEBR Products at

More on this topic:

Florida's growth at its lowest in 60 years, UF study finds - Gainesville Sun - June 13, 2011

Population growth slows in Florida, UF says - Herald-Tribune - June 13, 2011

UF study: Florida growth to continue lagging - Westport News - June 13, 2011

Economic Troubles Put Brakes on Florida's Population Growth - WMFE 90.7 FM - June 13, 2011

Florida Morning (Blog): Still Growing - Florida Times Union - June 14, 2011

Population will grow again in a few years, aiding economy, UF study says - Palm Beach Post - June 14, 2011

Florida population growth slows with economy, pick up coming - - June 17, 2011

Raising the debt limit with Economist David Denslow

June 1, 2011 - President Barack Obama met with Republican leaders earlier today to discuss a potential increase in the U-S debt ceiling. This comes just one day after the House of Representatives defeated its own bill that would’ve allowed the nation to increase its borrowing ability. Republicans are offering no signs that today’s meeting with the president produced any real progress toward a deal. With an August deadline approaching, the government must decide whether it’ll increase its borrowing authority or go into default. Florida’s 89.1 WUFT-FM’s Joe Lancos spoke with University of Florida Economist, Dave Denslow, about why the country may eventually need to raise its debt ceiling.

Listen to the interview:

Raising the debt limit with Economist David Denslow - WUFT FM 89.1 - June 1, 2011

UF: Florida’s Consumer Sentiment stays level for first time in months

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumer Sentiment among Floridians remained at 68 in May, ending three consecutive months of decline, according to a new University of Florida survey.

“While the overall Consumer Sentiment Index has declined steadily over the last several months and remained flat this month, there has been some uncharacteristic volatility in the individual components,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Of particular interest are the changes in perceptions of personal finances. This month, there was a decline in perceptions of personal finances now compared to a year ago, while expectations of personal finances increased from a record low in the release last month. We attribute most of these changes to fallout from the Florida budget.”

Although April brought some positive signs of recovery, McCarty said the economic environment is still mixed. Unemployment dropped to 10.8 percent — the lowest in Florida since 2009 — but the rate is still one of the highest in the country. Median housing prices rose to $132,700, but McCarty said prices could decline as a backlog of foreclosures moves through the courts. Gas prices have declined the past two weeks, but should rise again with the summer travel season approaching.

“Looking ahead, Florida is once again at a crossroads,” McCarty said. “It is critical that he job situation in Florida continues to improve. Although there have been gains associated with a recovery in tourism, there are several thousand layoffs looming in the public sector and associated industries. These will likely show up in the unemployment rate for July or August. This will likely keep Consumer Sentiment at relatively low levels in the upper 60s.”

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UF: Florida’s Consumer Sentiment stays level for first time in months - University of Florida News - May 31, 2011

More on this topic:

Florida Consumer Sentiment flat in May - South Florida Business Journal - May 31, 2011

Fla. Consumer Sentiment holds steady; US index dips - - May 31, 2011

Florida Consumer Sentiment holds steady in May - Sun Sentinel - May 31, 2011

Consumers stay glum in Florida - Miami Herald - June 1, 2011

State Budget Sinks Florida Consumer Sentiment, UF Says - Sunshine State News - June 1, 2011

Low Consumer Sentiment level in Florida - News Channel 5, West Palm Beach - June 2, 2011