Floridians got a modest raise and poverty dropped slightly across the state last year, but Florida still lags the rest of the country in those key economic measures, new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
The figures paint a mixed picture for Florida and depict an uneven economic recovery across the nation.
The median household income in the state rose 4 percent to $49,426 in 2015, from $47,463 the previous year, according to data in the 2015 American Community Survey released Thursday. That means Floridians’ incomes have now finally caught up and even surpassed the point they were at before the 2008 recession, when median household income stood at $47,778.
But the national median income in 2015 was substantially higher, at $55,775, ranking Florida just 38th among states.
The percentage of Floridians living below the federal poverty level also improved, dropping to 15.7 in 2015 from 16.5 percent the previous year. That means some 3.1 million people in the state were living in poverty in Florida in 2015, though that represents an estimated 94,729 fewer people in poverty than the year before, according to the survey data.
The poverty statistic put Florida, one of 23 states to see an improvement in the measure, in the middle rank nationally for 2015, according to a Census Bureau report. The poverty rate did not increase in any states. Nationally, the poverty rate was 14.7 percent.
In Miami-Dade County, the income and poverty statistics barely budged, and, confirming a longstanding contrast, significantly lag the state as a whole. The county’s poverty level for 2015 stood at 20 percent, statistically the same as the previous year, while median household income was $43,786, a slight improvement over $42,926 in 2014.
The household income figure suggests Miami-Dade is dragging down the average for South Florida. Household income for the Miami metro area, which under the Census Bureau definition includes Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, stood at $50,441, next to last in a ranking of the country’s 25 largest metros. Last on the list was Tampa Bay, with Orlando just one slot ahead of Miami-Dade.
All three metros’ economies are dominated by service and hospitality jobs, weighing down their median income when compared to other metro areas. But Florida as a whole may be lagging because the state’s housing crisis was among the worst in the country, and its economic recovery got a later start as a result, said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
“This could be that the catch-up hasn't taken place yet,” Snaith said.
The areas with the highest incomes in the state, by comparison, were the retiree-heavy metro areas of Naples and Sarasota, with median household income at $62,126 and $53,698, respectively.
The survey also found that income inequality is rising nationally — a trend most pronounced in the Southeast, including Florida, as well as in the nation's other mega-states.
According to the so-called Gini index, the most common measure of household income inequality used by economists, with 0 representing total income equality and 1 equivalent to total inequality, Florida had the fifth-highest income inequality in the nation in 2015, behind New York, Connecticut, Louisiana and California.
Floridians also face more housing stress than the national average, with 35.6 percent of the population spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, compared to 29.6 percent nationally in 2015.
This report was supplemented by material from the Associated Press.