Make us your home page

Census data reveal falling standards of living, more pressure on middle class and poor

Maybe Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! should not be our sole priority despite the mantra of Washington and Tallahassee leaders.

Maybe the startling decline of many Americans' standard of living should be a bigger concern as well.

Bleak Census Bureau numbers out this week show the income of the typical American family fell for the third year in a row. Now it's roughly where it was in 1996 when adjusted for inflation.

That's waaay back when Bill Clinton got re-elected president, when the Summer Olympics were in Atlanta, when gas cost $1.22 a gallon and when the Dow stock market roared upward to close over 6,000.

Nationally, real median household income in 2010 was $49,445, a 2.3 percent drop from 2009. Since 2007, real median household income has dropped 6.4 percent.

In Florida, median household income was $44,243 in 2010. That's down from $45,631 a year earlier and more than $5,000 less than the nation's median household figure.

So here's my question. If the typical household's economic clout has now spiraled down to what we had 15 years ago, how will consumers "buy" our way out of this super-recession?

How do you take a shrunken wallet and cover a barrage of rising costs, from grocery inflation and gasoline prices to rising electricity rates and, at least for some angry Floridians, skyrocketing sinkhole insurance?

We're focused almost exclusively on lowering the jobless rate, which now stands at 9.1 percent nationally, 10.7 percent in Florida and 11.1 percent in the Tampa Bay area.

For many looking for work, a position that pays less — a 1996 wage, for example — may still be a welcome job.

But do not underestimate the economic impact of a falling standard of living. Households by necessity will spend less. And that will ripple through an economy. Fewer bucks will be spent on restaurants or movie theaters or baseball games. Fewer folks will qualify for a mortgage.

Economists refer to our "lost decade." It's a term we heard earlier applied to Japan in the 1990s, when that once-dynamic country began stagnating with little growth and declining wages. There's lively debate that the United States could be vulnerable to falling into the same economic trap.

What is quite clear is the rising pressure on many Americans still trying to maintain the middle class dream with lower income and rising costs.

Consider Tuesday's New York Times front page story that reported on the "two tier" economy of Detroit's auto factories. Older workers earn $28 an hour next to newer hires (under newer union concessions) doing the same exact work for about $14 an hour.

Or consider Monday's Wall Street Journal front page story, which tells how the giant consumer products company Procter & Gamble now bets the squeeze on America's middle class will prove long lasting. So P&G, which sells stuff like Tide and Duracell batteries, is dividing its product lines. One will appeal to upscale buyers. Another will tempt "many of its former middle-market shoppers … trading down to lower-priced goods."

Welcome to the makings of a barbell society where folks cluster on one end or the other of a financial spectrum.

Contact Robert Trigaux at

Census Bureau findings:

» Earnings fell for the typical, full-time male worker and are now lower — adjusted for inflation — than in 1978, 33 years ago.

» For women, median incomes continue to rise in recent years. But women still make 77 cents for every dollar earned by comparably employed men.

» The number of Americans living in poverty has risen to 15.1 percent nationwide and 15.3 percent in Florida.

» Among the nation's children, 22 percent now live below the poverty line, the biggest percentage since 1993.

Source: Census Bureau report: Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010

Census data reveal falling standards of living, more pressure on middle class and poor 09/14/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Marina at Hudson Beach poised to become 24-unit condominium-hotel


    HUDSON — One of the mainstay businesses at Hudson Beach is poised for redevelopment into a 24-unit condominium-hotel.

  2. Have your say Tampa Bay on the region's future transit options

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — It's time, yet again, for Tampa Bay residents to tell officials what kind of transit options they want for their region.

    The Cross-Bay Ferry docks at the Tampa Convention Center on its maiden voyage on Nov. 1, 2016. A regional premium transit study will determine whether a ferry, or other options such as express buses or light rail, would be a good addition to Tampa Bay. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
  3. SOCom seeks civilian drone pilots to develop new technology through ThunderDrone


    TAMPA — For the last three years, Nicole Abbett has been using drones as part of her photography business, with clients like the city of Tampa and construction companies.

    Josh Newby, 31, Palm Harbor, of Tampa Drones fly's a drone in England Brothers park, Pinellas Park, 8/25/16. As drone popularity increases as a hobby and business, local governments are navigating a legal grey area- where, when, and how should drone flights be allowed?
  4. New apartment complex delivers unique floor plans


    RIVERVIEW — A new luxury apartment community has opened in the Progress Village area touting itself as a distinct living option just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.

    Alta at Magnolia Park dubs its new apartment community, that opened earlier this year in Riverview, a modern and distinct option for living just 10 miles from downtown Tampa.
  5. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]