GALVESTON, Texas — After trying out Atlanta, Miami and Southern California, Lilian Junco decided that Texas was the place to retire.
Being near her son was the first attraction, but soon she was drawn by the same features that have lured tens of thousands of others from out of state: Gulf Coast living and super-low costs.
With some of the country's lowest prices for housing, gas and food, no state income tax and one of the most resilient economies in the nation, Galveston and other parts of the Lone Star State are emerging as the new Florida.
Last week, Florida disclosed population figures that show a decline of 57,000 over the 12 months ending April 1, the first annual drop since the 1940s. Much of the loss has come in parts of southern Florida that long attracted retirees.
Meanwhile, other Sun Belt states such as Nevada and Arizona have been hit hard by the recession.
But Texas, which has weathered the current recession better than most parts of the country, is almost booming, in part because an earlier oil industry crash had left the state's banks too shaken to go on the home-mortgage binge that ended up crippling so many other states.
Texas' population, the nation's second-largest at about 25 million, is expected to be boosted in 2009 by net inflows of at least 150,000 people from other states, said Karl Eschbach, the state demographer.
Retirees are a growing part of that trend, lured by aggressive campaigns from state officials and developers.
"It's an easy sell," said Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, who is trying to recruit out-of-state seniors by establishing dozens of high-quality "certified" retirement communities. "All we need to do is get retirees to have a good look at Texas."
They will see big drawbacks along with the advantages.
Poverty, highway gridlock, crime and humidity can be stifling in some parts. And places along the Gulf Coast are notoriously susceptible to ferocious weather.
None of that fazed Junco. Having grown up in Cuba, she didn't fear tropical storms. Florida isn't any better, she said.
Moving to Galveston two years ago, Junco paid $130,000 for a one-bedroom condo with a view of the Gulf of Mexico. A cap on property taxes for seniors keeps her payments low, leaving a little more money for the 70-year-old widow to travel and frequent the restaurants and shops on this touristy island.
For most of her adult life, Junco lived in Long Island, N.Y., and worked as a computer technician in Manhattan. She said retiring to Hawaii was too expensive. Her second choice was here.