They came for Florida’s sun and sand. They got soaring costs and a culture war.

March 31, 2024


When her husband’s former boss in Connecticut reached out to see if he’d be willing to return, the couple leaped at the chance.

The reverse migration out of Florida isn’t just among newcomers, but also among longtime residents who said they can no longer afford to live there and are uncomfortable with the state’s increasingly conservative policies, which in recent years have included a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, a ban on transgender care for minors, state interventions in how race, slavery and sexuality are taught in schools, and a six-week ban on abortions.

After more than three decades in the Tampa Bay area, Donna Smith left the state for Pennsylvania in December, with politics and rising insurance costs playing a major role in her decision to leave.

“It breaks my heart, it really does, because Florida was really a pretty great place when I first moved there,” Smith said.

Having grown up in Oklahoma, Smith considered herself a Republican, but as Florida’s politics shifted to the right, she said she began to consider herself a Democrat. It wasn’t until the past several years, though, that politics started to encroach on her daily life — from feuds between neighbors and friends to neo-Nazis showing up at a Black Lives Matter rally in her small town.

“When I first moved to Florida, it was a live-and-let-live sort of beach feel. You met people from all over, everybody was relaxed. That’s just gone now, and it’s shocking. It’s just gone,” said Smith, 61, who works as a graphic designer and illustrator. “Instead, it’s just a constant stressful atmosphere. I feel as though it could ignite at any point, and I’m not a fearmonger. It’s just the atmosphere, the feeling there.”

She was already considering a move out of the state when she was told by her homeowners insurance company that she would need to replace her home’s roof because it was older than four years or her insurance premium would be going up to $12,000 a year from $3,600, which was already double what she had been paying. Even with a new roof, she was told her premium would be $6,900 a year. Before she could make a decision about what to do, her insurance policy was canceled.

Shortly after, Smith ended up moving to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area, where she is closer to her adult children. While the majority of voters in her new county chose Donald Trump in the last election, she said politics is no longer such a heavy presence in her everyday life.

“I don’t feel it is as oppressive. People don’t wear it on their sleeve like they did in Florida,” she said. “When you walk in a room, you don’t overhear a conversation all the time where people are saying ‘Trump is the best’ or ‘I went to that last rally,’ and they’re telling total strangers while you’re just waiting for your car or something. It was just everywhere.”


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