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The Florida Roundup
The Florida Roundup is a live, weekly call-in show with a distinct focus on the issues affecting Floridians. Each Friday at noon, listeners can engage in the conversation with journalists, newsmakers and other Floridians about change, policy and the future of our lives in the sunshine state.Join our hosts, veteran journalists from our partner public radio stations: WLRN’s Tom Hudson, broadcasting from Miami and WJCT’s Melissa Ross, broadcasting from Jacksonville.

The high — and getting higher — cost of living in Florida

A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Miami. U.S consumers have so far defied higher prices for gas, food, and rent and have been spending more in 2022, providing crucial support to the economy. How long that can continue will be one of the key factors affecting the economy and inflation this year. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
Marta Lavandier
A customer pumps gas at an Exxon gas station, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in Miami. U.S consumers have so far defied higher prices for gas, food, and rent and have been spending more in 2022, providing crucial support to the economy. How long that can continue will be one of the key factors affecting the economy and inflation this year.

The economy and high prices are likely to be the top issues as voters go to the polls this summer and fall.

Gasoline. Groceries. Rent. Insurance.

It has been getting more expensive to live in Florida — a lot more expensive.

Overall, prices for all kinds of things are up almost nine percent from a year ago. Paychecks are not keeping up with the price hikes.

Inflation is here , and it is squeezing Floridians, especially seniors — a huge population in this state. It particularly hurts lower - income Floridians and retirees reliant on Social Security checks. And it will likely play a role in elections later this year.

In April, prices were up in the Southeast U.S. by 8.8 % , which was a tiny improvement from March's regional inflation rate of 9.1 % . This includes gasoline and food.

"I think, unfortunately, (inflation) is going to be here for probably another 6 to 12 months," said Director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Forecasting Sean Snaith. "What's happening in Florida is not different from what we're seeing around the country. You know, perhaps with the exception of the housing market."

Home prices jumped 20.6 % in March compared to a year earlier , according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index. But the price jumps were even higher in Florida — up 32 % in Miami, up 34 % i n Tampa. And Florida is home to some of the highest annual rent hikes, too.

This spring, more than a third of households in Florida reported having difficulty paying for usual expenses. That was slightly higher than one year earlier according , to the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.

The Federal Reserve began r aising its short-term target interest rate earlier this spring to combat inflation, and Snaith worries the central bank will have to continue raising borrowing costs to bring down the rate of price hikes.

"I think that the Fed, in its actions to try to get inflation to heel and back down toward its 2 percent target level, is likely in the next 12 months going to push the economy into a recession," he said.

Fast rising prices hit lower - income and fixed - income Floridians faster and for longer. Fueled by higher inflation, the annual cost of living increase fo r Social Security late last year was 5.9 % — the largest annual hike since 1982. Advocacy group Senior Citizen League thinks the boost late this year could be 8.6 % .

The average Social Security recipient gets a monthly check of $1,657. A boost like that , which the Senior Citizen League expects , would add $142 to that amount.

Florida has long been a haven for retirees with its warm weather and no state income tax. Yet, the former director of the Claude Pepper Center at FSU , Larry Polivka , said there are significant differences in those new-to-Florida retirees and more veteran Floridians.

"The 'native' population is significantly poorer with fewer assets and savings than the folks who are moving here," he said. "One of the reasons associated with that is the fact that it's disproportionately minority and single women (who already live in Florida) compared to the people who are moving into the state."

This week, President Biden met with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday at the White House to talk about higher prices. Biden reiterated his respect for the independence of the central bank and its efforts to bring down inflation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been a frequent critic of the president’s handling of the economy. "You're seeing interest rates go up. You're going to probably continue to see that. That's going to put a downward pressure on the growth of the economy. And you very well could end up seeing this country plunged into a recession," he said May 20. "I hope that doesn't happen."

In February, the economy was cited as the most important issue by Florida voters , with GOP voters mentioning it slight ly more often than Democrats. A more recent Florida Chamber of Commerce poll from March found inflation and gasoline prices were the third most important issue after the economy and education.

"The economy always plays a big role in midterm elections and presidential elections. And no doubt this fall it's going to as well. That typically means bad news for the party that is in power in the White House," said Mike Binder, head of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF in Jacksonville.

Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi expects Florida Republicans to pull off "a trick." Amandi described it as the GOP turning the focus for inflation toward Pres. Biden and Democrats.

"Republicans have had total control over the state of Florida for over 20 years," he said. "I think the Democrats can put the spotlight on who is responsible here in Florida to discuss this as a Republican problem that they have not solved to the satisfaction of the voters."

The Florida Roundup invited three Florida Republican strategists to join the program. They declined.

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.