Real Estate

How a security guard, a waiter, a lawyer and a programmer afford Miami

It’s one thing to read the data: The median Miami-area worker takes home $17.20 an hour—less than in almost any other major metro. But what does that really mean in human terms?

For a 54-year-old security guard, it means sleeping on her daughter’s couch in lieu of paying rent. One stay-at-home lawyer lives what she calls “a feast-or-famine lifestyle” when it comes to earning a living.

The Miami Herald interviewed four workers — two in higher-paying professions, two in lower-paying ones — to learn how they make it in the Magic City.


Age: 54

Occupation: Security guard

Wage: $14.44/hr

Rent: $100 (reimburses daughter); sleeps on couch

Neighborhood: Opa-locka

“Since 2008, I haven’t been able to afford an apartment on my own. Right now I’m living with my daughter, and right before that I was living in a rooming house, because I can’t afford anything else. Even [an efficiency] is $800 a month, and you have to go in the roughest areas of the city. And as a woman, I don’t want to be living in the rough areas of the city.”


Age: 40

Occupation: Software developer

Wage: Above Miami-Dade annual household median

Rent: $1,950, two-bedroom apartment

Neighborhood: North Gables

“We gave up on buying...It just feels, and the stories you hear from people, that there were just people buying houses with cash. So how do you compete? ...The buying all felt very shady. Like, ‘Oh, the house has an add-on, there’s an addition to the house not up to code, so you’re going to have to deal with that.’ Every single house we saw had stuff like that. It wasn’t a wonderful experience.”

Carlos Caballero

Age: 25

Occupation: Waiter at Miami International Airport

Wage: $5.51 per hour, plus tips

Rent: $1,000 for a one-bedroom, shared with wife and child

Neighborhood: Flagami/Airport area

“Our young daughter sleeps in our room, often in our bed. In the past five years, I’ve taken two paid days off in a row as my longest vacation, to celebrate my five-year anniversary with my wife. I’d like to be able to afford to take my family out at least two or three times a month. I also worry about emergencies and contingencies — I was so lucky, when my daughter got sick the other week, that I didn’t to. What happens if I can’t work?”


Age: 34

Profession: Lawyer (self-employed)

Wage: Has ranged between $55,000 and $80,000 over the past two years; pays 25-30 percent on rent

Rent: $1,500, 1 bedroom

Neighborhood: North Bay Village

“I’ve been home [in South Florida] since 2012, and can’t imagine leaving. I’m saving money in lots of different ways — living here in North Bay Village as opposed to Miami Beach or Brickell or Edgewater. ... A lot of others are fortunate in that they can share their living expenses with a significant other. I’m not in that situation, so I had to be really mindful about where I’m living. ... I am very well aware that I am paying maybe top dollar to live in one of the most beautiful places in the country. Every time I come home — I just got back from Grand Cayman, it was stunning, but I come home to paradise. You can’t put a price on that.”