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Census shows veterans like life in Citrus County

Veterans make up 24.3 percent of the county's population. In Florida, only Okaloosa County's percentage is higher.

By JIM ROSS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2002

Veterans make up 24.3 percent of the county's population. In Florida, only Okaloosa County's percentage is higher.

J.J. Kenney, the veterans service officer for Citrus County, said 15 to 25 clients visit his office each day. Still others call on the phone.

There is no slow time of year anymore; every season is the busy season.

"We used to get some lag time when the snowbirds left," Kenney said. But now, he said, "that's not happening at all."

Such is the life of a veterans service officer in a county where almost one of every four adults is a veteran.

The latest Census 2000 data confirm it: More than 23,000 of Citrus' 98,000 adults (people 18 and older) are veterans -- 24.3 percent. In Florida, only Okaloosa County veterans make up a greater percentage of their county's adult population.

The data, released Thursday, came from the long-form questionnaire given to roughly one in six households nationwide. The numbers are estimates based on statistical sampling. More detailed numbers will be released in the summer.

The U.S. Census Bureau has released statistics bit by bit during the past year or so. Together, the figures form an interesting portrait of Citrus County.

For example, previous census reports showed Citrus had a lower percentage of nonwhite residents (7 percent) than any other Florida county.

They further showed that Citrus' median age (52.6) was higher than those in all Florida counties except Charlotte.

Only four other counties had a greater percentage of housing units that were owner occupied.

Statistics released Thursday, including those concerning veterans, added to the picture. They suggested that Citrus, like many counties in the region, enjoyed relative prosperity during the 1990s, with the median income jumping 11.6 percent and education levels increasing across the board.

The percentage of families receiving government assistance dropped from 5.1 percent to 2.3 percent. But the percentage of families living in poverty remained constant at 8.5 percent.

The high number of veterans certainly interests Kenney, a county employee whose office suite is in the Lecanto Government Building.

Kenney and his staff help veterans secure their pension benefits and file disability claims. They also issue eligibility certificates so veterans can seek VA home loans and help veterans receive or replace military medals.

"I'm surprised we're ranked No. 2," Kenney said. After all, the county doesn't have a major Veterans Administration medical center, as Alachua County does, nor is it home to major military bases, the way Jacksonville and Tampa are.

But age might explain the trend. Some 32 percent of the county's 118,000 or so residents are 65 or older. The percentages are greater only in Highlands and Charlotte counties.

In other words, many of the people who fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War have retired and moved to Citrus.

"It's a retirement community, basically. I'm here because it's warm and I like being in Florida," said Keith Poling, 71, commander of VFW Post 8189 in west Citrus.

Poling, who served with the Army in the Korean War, came to Citrus in 1954 from Dayton, Ohio.

Some other information found in the census statistics that were released Thursday:

Income: The median household income in 2000 was $31,001, ranking Citrus 45th among the state's 67 counties. After adjusting for inflation, the median income was 11.6 percent greater than it was in 1990.

(Half the Citrus households earned more than $31,001 median income and half earned less.)

The boost in median income was enjoyed differently throughout the county. In Inverness, for example, the income jumped 17 percent during the 1990s; in Citrus Springs, the boost was just 5.7 percent.

Overall, the county experienced growth in the high-income categories and losses in the low-income categories.

In 1990, for example, 18 percent of Citrus households registered annual incomes less than $10,000. By 2000, that was down to 10.3 percent.

At the high end, 1.9 percent of households enjoyed annual incomes in excess of $150,000. Only 0.5 percent of Citrus households in 1990 could say the same.

As could be expected in a county with so many senior citizens, the percentage of households receiving Social Security remained steady (about 52 percent) during the 1990s, and the number collecting other retirement income increased 3 percentage points, from 32 to 35 percent.

The poverty statistics -- 8.5 percent of Citrus families lived in poverty in 2000, the same percentage as a decade earlier -- concerned DuWayne Sipper, executive director of the Path of Citrus County, a private group dedicated to helping homeless people find Christian living environments.

"How well in the last 10 years did the service agencies keep up with that population growth? In my opinion, the service agencies are struggling," Sipper said. He referred to social service agencies and churches that help the homeless and the working poor.

Education: The population boom (Citrus grew 26 percent during the 1990s) appears to have brought better-educated people to the county.

In 1990, 10 percent of Citrus adults (defined in this category as people age 25 and older) had less than a ninth-grade education. By 2000, only 5.4 percent fit in that category.

Only nine other counties experienced a greater percentage decrease in that category.

Meanwhile, 8.3 percent of Citrus adults held a bachelor's degree in 2000, compared with 6.8 percent in 1990.

In Florida, 6.7 percent have less than a ninth-grade education and 14.3 percent hold bachelor's degrees.

Marriage: Among people age 15 and older, 63.5 percent of Citrus residents are married. Only three other counties (Flagler, Nassau and Charlotte) registered greater percentages.

In 1990, 67.5 percent of Citrus residents were married. Again, only three Florida counties had greater percentages.

In Florida, 54 percent of people age 15 and older are married.

Widows: Among people age 15 and older, 11 percent were widows or widowers. Only three counties (Pasco, Sarasota and Charlotte) had greater percentages.

In Florida, 7.9 percent of people are widowed.

Language: Listen to a conversation in a Citrus household, and the odds of hearing a language other than English are relatively low.

Some 93.4 percent of Citrus households speak English only. It was 93.3 percent in 1990.

Statewide, English is the sole language spoken in 77 percent of homes.

Travel time: It takes more time for Citrus residents to get to work now than it did 10 years ago.

The average travel time is 26.6 minutes, compared with 20.3 minutes in 1990. That's a 31 percent increase, the ninth greatest increase experienced in any Florida county.

Residents of Wakulla County in the Panhandle have the longest average travel time: 35.5 minutes.

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