About 30 percent of Miami-Dade’s youngest children live in poverty, highlighting the income gap in a county where the poorest residents earn less than $170 a week.
The findings from a new county analysis of Census data reinforce Miami-Dade’s status as a prime example of the income divide: The wealthiest fifth of the population earned an average of $176,876 in 2013, compared with $8,829 for the poorest fifth.
“The extreme level of inequality — that jumped out,” said Robert Hesler, an author of the report titled Income & Poverty in Miami-Dade County: 2013.
Sky-high rents, public-transit shortcomings and the high cost of student loans all contribute to keeping low-income Miami-Dade residents in poverty, said Alayne Unterberger, a social and economic policy researcher at Florida International University who was not involved in the report. She said one of the area’s top draws, its importance as a vacation destination, adds to the barriers separating the county’s poorest residents from the middle class.
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“The economy in South Florida is predicated on the service and tourist and seasonal construction industries rather than year-long jobs with benefits,” Unterberger said.
Miami-Dade’s economic-research arm produced the report, the first of three looking at poverty in the county. Among the findings:
▪ About one in five Miami-Dade households lives in poverty. That’s defined as earning less than $23,625 a year for a family of four. In all, about 541,000 Miami-Dade residents live in poverty, out of a population of 2.5 million.
▪ Miami-Dade leads the pack nationally on the poverty scale. With 21 percent of total residents in poverty, Miami-Dade has a higher poverty rate than all but 26 of the 257 counties nationwide with populations topping 250,000.
“Most of the population does not understand that there are large groups of people here in the United States that do not have enough money to pay for the basics — a roof over their head and electricity and food,” said Patricia Robbins, CEO of the Farm Share food-distribution charity in Homestead. “They try to pay for their home, then electricity. The last thing is food.”
▪ Only about 40 percent of the county’s population earns enough to live comfortably. The study pegs a “living income” in Miami-Dade at $54,100, basically what a family of three needs to be considered financially stable. About 60 percent of households fail to hit that mark.
▪ Miami-Dade’s black population has the most severe poverty problem. The poverty rate for black residents was 29 percent, compared to 21 percent for Hispanics and 12 percent for white non-Hispanics.
▪ About 149,000 children lived in poverty in Miami-Dade in 2013. That’s a poverty rate of roughly 27 percent when it comes to residents under the age of 18. As children get older, they’re less likely to live in poverty. When it comes to pre-school children, the report says more than 30 percent lived in poverty.
Hesler, who helped author the county report, said he was struck by the sheer number of children living below the poverty line. “We usually talk about the percentage of people living in poverty,” he said. “But who’s a percent?”
Robbins, the president of Farm Share, said she has not seen any less need for free food as the 2007-09 national recession gave way to the current stretch of economic growth. She pegged the worsening conditions on rising costs of food and other goods. That has sent more families to Farm Share’s food-distribution events.
“What they ask most for is milk. They’ll take any kind. Almond milk, soy milk,” she said. “The children that we see come through the lines, you can tell they aren’t getting enough to eat. They’re thin and kind of lanky.”
▪ The highest 20 percent on the income scale pocketed 55 cents of every dollar earned in 2013. That top income bracket on average earned 1,903 percent more than the lowest income bracket.
▪ Miami-Dade’s neighbors to the north fare much better when it comes to poverty. In Broward County, only 14 percent of households live in poverty. Palm Beach County has a poverty rate just below 13 percent.
Robert Cruz, an economist and head of the business department at Miami Dade College’s Kendall campus, noted that rising housing costs are only going to make the path out of poverty more difficult. He noted the 2013 data won’t capture the last two years of soaring real-estate values, which also drive up rents.
“With the same amount of income,” Cruz said, “you’re probably worse off.”