, Newburyport, MA


January 18, 2014

Shribman: The future is Florida


“Growth reduces risk,” says Stanley K. Smith, who directs the population program in the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “If you’re thinking of buying a house in a growing community, that makes it easier to sell the house later, and if you’re a business thinking of expanding, population growth reduces the risk that the expansion won’t pan out.”

For a generation, American political scientists looked to California for a glimpse of the politics of the future. Before long they very likely will look to Florida.

One reason: Two out of every three Floridians were born elsewhere, so this is the nation’s new melting pot. Maybe even more important: In this state, which possesses most of the minorities in the large umbrella categories, there is more country-of-origin politics playing out than anywhere else.

“It is the nation’s biggest swing state, and that is not going to change,” says Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist. “If anything, that means Florida is the best bellwether for the country at large. The in-migration patterns show that the people coming here are from a wide variety of places.”

Not that this is some kind of paradise, tourist brochures notwithstanding.

When John Gunther wrote his landmark “Inside U.S.A.” in 1947, he noted in Florida a “freakishness in everything from architecture to social behavior unmatched in any American state.” That’s still true. Two thirds of a century ago, Florida led the nation in syphilis; today only four states exceed Florida’s rate, with incidences since 2005 twice as high in Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) as in the rest of the state.

The famous guide to the state produced by the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration noted that many Floridians “resent intrusion and (are) suspicious of unfamiliar things and persons, particularly strangers who do not speak (their) idiom.” That’s not true anymore in a state that is no longer a winter colony of Hialeah, jai alai and hibiscus.

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