The demographic commonly known as snowbirds, remains an established population through the US Sunbelt each winter season. As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape frigid, windy, icy, and snowy climes at home by migrating southward each year.
Then almost as a rite of summer the migratory trend reverses itself and snowbirds head back north from whence they came. Or do they, anymore?
In other words, they may be staying for the summer.
In an attempt to track snowbirds flocking in and out of the state, Arizona media outlets have initiated a project to determine whether the term snowbird and all that it implies is still accurate.
They want to find out if those who have come to be known as snowbirds truly keep two residences and treat them as two separate brick-and-mortar homes. Or, one permanent residence and RV south for winter.
Or, has that pattern altered? Have snowbirds become staybirds?
Do they live in Arizona most of the year and take off for several months to visit their hometowns or travel elsewhere when the sun blazes in the Southwest, and then return to their yearlong home in Arizona?
For years now, the migratory patterns and numbers of snowbirds have been somewhat a mystery. Arizona State University, which used to track snowbirds flocking in and out of the state, no longer does so.
A local survey by the Ahwatukee Foothills News suggests that the number of Arizona winter visitors is not decreasing and that more of them are becoming yearlong Arizona residents.
The Valley’s proliferation of single-family homes have made research more difficult than it was when most snowbirds stayed in an RV/MH park for four to six months in places like Yuma, Tucson, and Apache Junction.
In an attempt to shed some light on an issue that has significant cultural, social, and economic impact on the entire state, various media began by asking questions of a variety of people, groups, and organizations to determine how things have changed since ASU last charted the Snowbird pattern.
Did you start out as a Snowbird and end up a Staybird?
Phoenix Metro RV Park caters exclusively to an over-55 age group. Jan Venard, the park’s assistant manager, noted that the business has been at its peak during recent snowbird seasons, but almost everybody that can leave departs for the summer. Venard, who been at the park for three years, hasn’t noticed significant changes during her tenure.
Diane Rossell has managed the Tempe Travel Trailer Villa long enough to see the changes at the macro level. She also agreed that winter business has boomed in the past four years. The most significant change, however, is the increase in summer residents. According to Rossell, usually 60 out of 160 lots remain vacant during the summer, but in the past four years, only 30 lots have been vacant. Instead of maintaining their original home base, many of them have elected to reside permanently in the RV park.
Contempo Tempe, another RV park, also said fewer winter residents are leaving Arizona during the summer, about 15 percent compared to about 25 percent in the past.
Supplementing information from mobile home communities, senior activity centers offer a softer angle on snowbird trends.
The Ahwatukee Recreation Center gives retirees the opportunity to socialize and learn new hobbies. The recreational center noted that while it has less participation during the summer, the discrepancy is not as big as it used to be. The findings of the Ahwatukee Recreational Center would seem to corroborate the observations of local RV parks.
The evidence indicates that the snowbirds haven’t diminished. If anything, out-of-state visitors have increased their presence. The only change is that many of them are settling down on a permanent basis.
While they offer an indication on their own, such information would be bolstered with data such as seasonal delivery stop/starts by the U.S. Postal Service. But those figures simply are not available.
The same could be said of utility shutoffs. But the companies that deliver gas, electricity, and water do not keep that kind of data.
So, where can one turn to for a clearer picture of current summertime population trends?
The U.S. Census Bureau might be one place. Again, the data is inconclusive.
So, while the question may not have a definitive overall answer at this point, there are indicators. And there are plenty of folks who would like to know more.
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