SEBRING - Ever trailed behind a half-speed senior on U.S. 27? That right-turn signal blinks and blinks for miles and miles.
Maybe it eases the suffering to realize that 23,640 Highlands County retirees collect almost $25 million a month in Social Security checks.
"Wow. That's a lot of money to the economy," said Chip Boring, a broker with RE/Max Realty Plus in Sebring. "In fact, I became one myself this year."
In 2012, according to figures released by the Social Security Administration, 31,585 checks came to Highlands County ZIP codes. That counts retirees, disabled workers, widows and widowers, spouses and children, and they collected $36.21 million.
At age 66, Boring is still working because Social Security doesn't cap how much he can earn.
As he sells houses, he forms impressions of how people earn their money.
"And sometimes, they just tell me that they are on a fixed income, or dividends, or they have a trust fund," said Boring, who was a county commissioner from 1984 through 1992.
From 1980 through today, the county population doubled from 47,527 to an estimated 99,000. No one knows how many newcomers were retirees, but Boring's customers often tell him.
"What we see are a lot of retirees from the north who moved here for a reason: the weather, their taxes were too high, the cost of living was too high, and they were on a fixed income or a limited income," Boring said.
And they're still coming, Boring said, from New York, Ohio and even California. Every winter, automobile tags appear from Ontario, the Canadian province that borders U.S. states from Vermont to Minnesota.
"They're going to be here four or five months a year," Boring said.
Over the past 10 years, the number of all checks has risen by 2,110, the SSA calculated. The value of their checks rose from $21.645 million to $23.640 million.
The value of the checks to ages 65 or older also rose from $23.195 million in December 2003 to $24.885 million in December 2012.
Sorted by ZIP codes, Venus residents collected 225 in Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance checks in December 2012 worth $160,000; Lorida, 545 for $400,000; Avon Park, 6,860 for $5.15 million; Lake Placid, 7,205 for $5.815 million; and Sebring, 16,810 for $13.36 million.
In 2012, 2,150 checks went to widows or widowers of deceased Social Security recipients; 3,815 to disabled former workers; 1,275 to spouses, and 175 to children.
Avon Park residents collected 885 disability checks versus 660 for Lake Placid and 1,065 for Sebring.
Avon Park widows and widowers collected 420 pensions versus 450 for Lake Placid and 635 for Sebring.
Avon Park children collected 425 checks versus 270 for Lake Placid and 725 for Sebring.