Miami-Dade incomes are now below where they were in 1970

The crane has become the unofficial city bird of Miami during the latest construction boom.
The crane has become the unofficial city bird of Miami during the latest construction boom. Miami Herald

Unemployment in Miami-Dade has never been lower.

Unfortunately, the same can also be said of incomes.

A new calculation shows that the median household income in Miami-Dade has actually decreased over the past five decades—to $45,900 in 2016 from $49,800 in 1970.

That's according to Alan Berube, senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. Berube is keynote speaker at today's Annual Metro Forum: State of the South Florida Economy presentation at the FIU Metropolitan Center.

Berube plans to compare the recent trajectory of Miami-Dade with San Diego. For the first half of the post World War II era, both cities had similar sizes, demographics and single-source economies (tourism in Miami's case, the military in San Diego's). Here's the table showing the evolution of wages in the two communities over time that Berube shared with the Herald.

Note: The figures are in constant dollars, adjusted for inflation.

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Miami-Dade incomes have fallen since 1970, while San Diego's have climbed significantly. Alan Berube

While Miami-Dade wages have shown a slight increase since the post-recession low of 2010, they have still not returned to the peak of the 1990s, let alone their level decades ago.

Meanwhile, San Diego incomes have climbed significantly since 1970.

The data come at a time when studies are showing more skilled Miamians than ever are working for themselves, meaning their incomes may be more precarious. Meanwhile, teachers are now barely able to afford housing.

What accounts for the diverging fates of the two cities? In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Berube said, the U.S. pulled back on defense spending as the Soviet Union collapsed. That forced San Diego's leadership to diversify its economy. There was an intense push to invest in research, science, and education, especially through the University of California-San Diego.

Miami never had quite the same shock to its tourism industry. And while it has been shaped by immigration booms, strategic leadership could have put the region on a path to wider prosperity far sooner.

Alan Berube

Today, San Diego is known as a life sciences hub—something that no one predicted 30 years ago.

“It’s not like who the place is, is foreordained," Berube said. "Rather, they've had sufficient investment in assets that drive tech-enabled growth. Preparing all its population for all opportunities that the economy provides—they’ve been more thoughtful and intentional about that.”

Berube believes Miami's economy is now on the right track, but that it will take patience to see the investments it is making now pay off.

"The question for Miami and other big cities is, what's the tech niche that could be a source of good job creation coming out of the economy's trend toward digitization," he said.

For information about today's event, visit

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