Miami poverty rate among highest in US, Census report says
By Wayne Tompkins
The City of Miami has one of the highest poverty rates and one of the lowest median incomes among large US cities, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey released Tuesday.
The survey places Miami's poverty rate at 26.9%, well above the state average of 12.6%, Miami-Dade County's 16.4% and the national average of 13.3%.
Miami residents living below the poverty line have the added burden of dealing with some of the nation's highest median housing prices.
Local economists say they are not surprised by the findings.
"We're seeing a significant influx of immigrants moving into the city and that is increasing because the county's lower cost housing is in the vicinity of the city," said Manuel Lasaga, president of Strategic Information Analysis Inc. in Miami.
Mr. Lasaga said the city's service-oriented economy and the high percentage of residents employed in those fields also are a drag on wages.
Miami ranked in the bottom five of cities of more than 250,000 people with the highest poverty rates, joining Detroit, Buffalo, NY, Cincinnati and Cleveland. The census data shows that 94,530 of Miami's 351,000 residents are living below poverty level.
The city's median household income of $27,088 also ranked in the bottom four, joining Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo. That's well below the national average of $48,451 and the state's $45,495.
In Miami, there is a wide disparity of median household income between non-Hispanic whites ($63,723), Hispanics ($25,673) and African-Americans ($18,710).
Peter Thompson, an economist at Florida International University, said the city attracts a steady flow of newly-arrived, young and low-skilled immigrants who take low-paying jobs, then leave the city as they become upwardly mobile. That is reflected in lower poverty rates in surrounding areas such as Miami Beach (17%) and Kendall (12%).
"That's the incubator effect the City of Miami has," said Tony Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables. "They will go to Miami-Dade Community College, many of them, and learn a skill or a trade and then move on. There's not a lot of news in that sense — it's been happening that way here for a while now."
Mr. Villamil said that the survey tends to skew Miami's data because it does not count many of the city's affluent seasonal residents.
Mr. Thompson said a poor public education system and a high dropout rate are also contributing to poverty figures.
"That would be the first thing to look at," he said.
The survey found that 37% of Miami residents living below the poverty level have less than a high school education.
Even second-generation immigrants are handicapped if their parents don't learn English and are unable to participate in their children's schooling, Mr. Thompson added.
While there are pockets of lingering institutional poverty in the city, what would be especially revealing, Mr. Villamil said, would be a study over a 10-year period to see if the same families in poverty then are the same as today.
"You would find that a lot of those first families are doing a lot better today," he said.