Forecasts for Florida's Economy Are Bleak, Folks

There needs to be some kind of drinking game tied to breaking news alerts that tell us how grim our financial futures are. It began this morning on the Herald’s website with the news that employment in Florida is at a 15-year high and that it could get worse by next summer.

In related news, as our own Natalie O’Neill told us earlier this week, squatters are taking up residence in abandoned foreclosed homes. Then we get word state economists are sitting around this morning talking about how their forecasts for this year’s state budget, which were already bleak, weren’t quite bleak enough.

Back before the global meltdown, they projected a budget shortfall of, oh, $1.5 billion, but that was the glass-half-full scenario, based on bullish projections of growth in Florida’s population and, get this, an uptick in home sales. Well, we all know what’s happened since then -- Florida is now number two in the nation in foreclosed homes. This morning, economists are saying the budget deficit could be as high as $2.3 billion.

What doees this all mean for us?

From the Herald this morning:

With more people out of work, the state's open-door policy at community colleges draws many folks back to school, thus swelling enrollment. There are more people committing property crimes, Baker said, which adds to the demand on jails, courts, and prisons. And more people qualify for Medicaid -- 100,000 new Medicaid patients are projected this year and another 150,000 next year.

''There's going to be more people in need over the next 18 months,'' Baker said.

Another group of Floridians will also be at risk, she warned: new homeowners.

As the housing boom drove home ownership in Florida to record levels -- from the historically constant levels of 66 percent to an unprecedented 72 percent -- it also snagged many families already in financially precarious situations. Many of them are now overburdened by debt and are struggling to make payments, Baker said.

''That's 410,000 families in Florida who are most vulnerable to the weakening economy,'' she said.

Plus revenue is down, and consumer confidence is at some of the worst levels since forecasters have been measuring it.

''Anyone with an IRA or an investment account which has lost value and has lost home value is not going to be wanting to spend money,'' Baker said.

That all leads to one conclusion, she said: "Florida is right now in the worst shape budgetarily than any other state.''

With news like that, there's only one thing to do. Start drinking.

--Jesse Hyde

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