Miami Herald: “Booming economy? For South Florida residents, barely getting by is increasingly the norm”

Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate sits at about 3.6 percent — the lowest in a decade. An all-time high of more than 1.2 million county residents have jobs.

But for an increasing number of South Florida families, survival in the past decade has become more difficult. About 40 percent of Miami-Dade families now earn less than it costs to live here — on top of nearly 20 percent of families living below the poverty line. In Broward, 37 percent of households are working but earning too little to pay their bills, while another 13 percent live in poverty.

Those findings comes from the United Way’s latest ALICE report, a study examining household finances by state and county released Wednesday.

ALICE stands for asset-limited, income-constrained, employed. These are households where an individual has a job, earns more than the federal poverty level, but is still earning less than the basic cost of living for their county — the ALICE Threshold. All data are sourced from the U.S. government.

The newly released report is based on data current as of 2016, meaning there’s likely some margin of error.

Still, it shows that in Miami-Dade, the share of ALICE households has surged — from 33 percent in 2014 to 40 percent in 2016. Meanwhile, the share of households above the ALICE threshold declined from 46 percent to 41 percent. The share of households in poverty fell from 21 percent to 19 percent.

The bottom line: The share of South Florida households facing difficult financial choices is surging.

“We are absolutely going in the wrong direction,” said Maria Alonso, president and CEO of United Way of Miami-Dade.

The biggest culprit, she said, remains rising housing costs. Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in the Miami metro area, consumer spending on housing has now hit nearly 38 percent of income, compared with 36 percent in 2014.

“We all know the realities — we have a high cost of living, and our affordable housing stock is limited at best,” she said. “So it makes for a continuously challenging environment for our [working] families, the ones that our economy and community depend upon.”

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava noted that ALICE households are most likely to be renters — and the rental market in Miami-Dade, she said, has become “insane.”

“There’s a totally inadequate supply of housing to meet the need — and we’re losing more affordable housing as subsidized housing ages out and is going to market rate,” she said. “We have to be really aggressive about not just adding new housing, but not losing ground on what we already have.”

The report found that a Miami-Dade family of four with two young children would have to be earning more than $61,000 a year to afford basic necessities. The median household income in the county earned about $46,000 at the time of data collection.

Single-parent households headed by women are highly vulnerable; black and Hispanic households are far more likely to be financially stressed than white households, according to the data.

In Broward, the story is much the same. The share of ALICE households increased from 31 percent to 37 percent, while the share of households above ALICE declined from 55 percent to 50 percent. The county’s poverty rate was nearly unchanged, falling from 14 percent to 13 percent.

As of 2016, the “survival” budget for a young Broward family of four was more than $64,000 a year, while the median household income was about $54,000.

“We have lots of people back to work, and the economy is good,” said Kathleen Cannon, president and CEO of the United Way of Broward. “However, so many people, about 50 percent, are doing all the right things but cannot make ends meet. The cost of housing is so high, and wages are not keeping up.”

Many families now spend well over 50 percent of their income for housing, Cannon said.

“We have so many families who at the end of their pay period, they’re making some decision about, ‘Should I take the car or the bus?’ And if they miss a day’s wages, it spirals them right into poverty.”

The findings suggest that while some South Florida families may be transitioning out of poverty, they are still struggling to get by. And a significant share who were above the ALICE threshold are sliding back into it.


In certain Miami-Dade County neighborhoods, the combined share of financially stressed households — those in poverty or within the ALICE household — approached or reached 100 percent:

  • In the Homestead Base neighborhood, 100 percent of the households are financially stressed. The area comprises approximately 900 individuals in 145 households living near Homestead Air Reserve Base in south Miami-Dade,
  • In Opa-locka, 88 percent of households are financially stressed. The area comprises about 16,000 individuals in about 5,123 households.
  • In Medley, 88 percent of the households are financially stressed. The neighborhood comprises about 1,000 individuals in about 317 households in northwest Miami-Dade.
  • In Brownsville, in central Miami-Dade, 87 percent of households are financially stressed. The area includes about 16,000 individuals in about 5,108 households.
  • In Florida City in south Miami-Dade, 84 percent of the households are financially stressed. The area comprises about 12,000 individuals in about 2,862 households.

According to the study, black and Hispanic households are far more likely to be financially stressed than white ones:

  • Black households: 72 percent financially stressed (101,256 households)
  • Hispanic households: 61.5 percent (364,818 households)
  • Asian households: 47 percent (6,631 households)
  • Two or more-race households: 46 percent (7,037 households)
  • White households: 41 percent (56,868 households)

Among household types, those headed by a single female parent were highly likely to be living on the financial edge. About 80 percent live in poverty or at ALICE levels.

In Broward, far fewer neighborhoods suffer from high rates of financial stress. The most vulnerable were:

  • Franklin Park, comprising about 1,000 individuals in about 344 households just northwest of Fort Lauderdale: 89 percent rate.
  • Washington Park, comprising about 1,500 individuals in about 465 households just west of Fort Lauderdale: 81 percent
  • Pembroke Park, comprising about 6,500 individuals in about 2,317 households just southwest of Hollywood: 78 percent.

The racial breakdown for Broward was not immediately available.

By comparison, the overall Florida rate of financially stressed households (falling into poverty or at ALICE levels) remained mostly unchanged.

“In 2016, 45 percent of Florida’s families struggled to pay their bills and keep their heads above the fiscal waters,” Ted Granger, president of the United Way of Florida, wrote in an introduction to the report. “When I first heard this statistic, I was floored. Certainly, I knew that many Florida families were struggling. But almost half of the families in the state? Shocking!”

Even using the most conservative cost scenarios for a family’s monthly expenses for housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and necessary technology, he said, ALICE families “live on the brink of financial disaster every day.”

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