Facing the challenge of 58% of all households on the brink
Written by Michael Lewis on April 11, 2017
A sobering view of Miami-Dade’s economy from the bottom half looking up has realistic implications far from the cranes that are building a seemingly separate world that recognizes only the upper edges of county life.
That systematic sobering look from the United Way of Florida shows that 21% of our county’s households earn less than the federal poverty level and that an additional 37% of the county’s households are struggling to make ends meet, up from 31% just five years ago.
The report also reveals a rapidly aging state and county, with adults 65 and older heading more than 200,000 households in the county and almost 125,000 of those households either in poverty or struggling to make it economically.
None of this is apparent if you look from the top down, where all vestiges of the late recession have vanished. From the still-rising luxury residences to the glitzy Design District and sparkling new Brickell City Centre, affluence seems to be everywhere.
But it’s not. The people whose work supports all of those enterprises frequently live near the edge, according to the United Way.
According to the report, the Miami-Dade household survival budget for a family of four in the past five years rose from $48,166 to $56,753, with large increases in cost for health coverage coupled with a jump in transportation spending stemming primarily from the rising cost of car insurance.
The cost of housing, surprisingly, rose far more slowly from 2012, but only because housing even then was extremely costly.
So while the county’s median household income rose from $41,400 in 2012 to $43,786 today, that increase didn’t keep pace with a rising cost of living. And the county’s median household income lags far behind the state’s median of $49,426.
While the numbers obviously have implications for the United Way and the web of agencies and services it helps to support, the implications spread throughout the community to others.
One of the county’s most vital aims is One Community One Goal, spearheaded by the Beacon Council with the task of expanding the numbers of jobs in industries that pay well above the county’s median levels. It’s evident from the United Way study that far too many in Miami-Dade are in the lower-paying end of the wage scale for multiple reasons.
Throughout the state, in fact, the United Way study found that the largest single job category in 2015 was in retail sales, where 337,140 people averaged $9.99 per hour. Second was food preparation, with 227,860 persons averaging $8.98 per hour. The third largest category was 226,000 cashiers averaging $9.08 per hour. Those are the top three job categories in the state, averaging together well under $400 per week.
In fact, statewide, the only job category of the top 11 that averaged as much as $15 per hour was registered nurses, who are the top of the 20 largest job categories at $29.87 per hour.
One Community One Goal is geared to bring in more jobs in higher wage tiers, jobs not represented in the top 20 categories in this state and this county.
While the level of success of that effort is certainly not to blame for more and more families – 58% in this county – being at or below the financial edge, everyone will acknowledge that we need to be adding bigger numbers of higher paying jobs faster, shifting more households above the brink of economic danger.
That, of course, is far easier said than done. Higher paying jobs are most likely to go to those educationally prepared for such jobs, which puts a burden on universities, colleges and those who offer technical training to have workers well prepared for better jobs. One Community One Goal is working closely with educational institutions to make that happen. We won’t attract higher-paying new businesses if they don’t see a sufficient number of trained workers ready for those jobs.
Other needs are also apparent. The largest burdens on the members of the workforce who the United Way study labels “asset limited, income constrained, employed” persons include the very short supply of workforce housing, a lack of adequate public transportation as driving costs skyrocket and housing needs force workers to live further and further from jobs, and the rising cost of health care.
All of these create a web of community issues that should be taken into close consideration with every action of state and local governments. Miami-Dade cannot be a healthy community with 58% of its households waking up in economic jeopardy every morning.
It is easy to allow the growth of wealth at the upper end as the elite of the nation and often of the globe flock to Miami-Dade to obscure the concerns that a majority of the population on the brink should raise as red flags.
Miami is definitely the place to be in a global setting. But when a survival household budget for a family of four is $56,760 and for a single person is $22,488 and when 58% of households can’t make the survival minimum, this community needs to focus attention and resources on making sure that the opportunities are ample for that 58% to help themselves rise above and beyond the brink.
The United Way’s report offers a challenge that is also an opportunity. Government and the business community need to accept that challenge. The opportunity is a far stronger and more stable Miami for everyone.