When it comes to household income inequality, Florida cities top the charts

Tampa is one of the top cities in the nation for income inequality as the middle class shrinks and more people find jobs at either the low end of the spectrum, inlcuding in retail, tourism and fast food. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Tampa is one of the top cities in the nation for income inequality as the middle class shrinks and more people find jobs at either the low end of the spectrum, inlcuding in retail, tourism and fast food. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Quick! Name the only state with more than one city among the top 10 in the nation for the greatest inequality in household income.

You guessed it. Florida. Miami toppled New Orleans as this year's most unequal big city in the United States, leapfrogging to the top spot after ranking No. 7 a year ago.

Tampa is Florida's second city in the inequality top 10. It ranks No. 7 this year, up from No. 8 in 2015. Miami and Tampa also made last year's list, but Texas had two cities, Dallas and Houston, making that list as well. This year, Houston did not qualify.

What's happening? Middle-income jobs are shrinking away in Miami and Tampa as more residents find work at either the lower or higher paying end of the employment spectrum.

It's no coincidence that the Tampa Bay Times last week reported that 40 of the billionaires to make the 2016 Forbes 400 list of richest people in this country now claim Florida as their residence. That's up sharply from 2011 when just 29 billionaires in the Forbes 400 claimed Florida as their home.

Previous coverage: Among the Forbes 400 billionaires, Florida is gaining favor as a place to call home

Nor is it a fluke that Florida's economic reliance on creating large numbers of tourism and hospitality jobs has swelled the employment ranks primarily among the low-wage ranks of hotel maids, waiters and waitresses, and retail help.

Related: A recession could be a bloodbath for the emerging restaurant scene in Tampa Bay

Not all middle income jobs are disappearing in Tampa and Miami. They're just shrinking in volume compared to those that pay a lot more or less.

"Miami-Dade now has more jobs than it had in 2007," Kevin Greiner, senior fellow at the Florida International University Metropolitan Center, told Bloomberg. "The problem is that the quality, and the wages, and the income of those jobs created have been significantly lower than they were in the past." The same can be said for the Tampa market, as well as for the other eight cities ranked.

Real estate also aggravated the growing income disparity in Miami where flight capital from Latin America as well as investments by the international jet set get invested by the billions in upscale condos and waterfront homes. The top 20 percent of Miami's population held 60.6 cents of every $1 of aggregate household income in 2015. A year earlier, it held 58.4 cents of each dollar.

Related: How long can the good times roll for Tampa Bay's housing market before the bubble bursts?

None of the "most unequal" cities in the top 10 are west coast cities. Fifth-ranked Dallas is the only top ten city that is west of the Mississippi River.

Bloomberg ranked the household income inequality of cities with populations of at least 250,000 by ranking them based on the Gini coefficient. That's a commonly used index that measures the distribution of household income. In this list, 2015 data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey was used. The ratio of the index can range from zero, which reflects absolute household income equality, to one, which means complete inequality.

Miami took the top spot in 2016 with a coefficient of 0.58, closely followed by Atlanta and New Orleans.

Widening income inequality is a distressing trend in the country but especially in the Sunshine State.

It's also complicated. Some observers point out Florida's greater income inequality is aggravated by a glut of retirees who benefit from years of savings and Social Security payments. Others point out the household income gap is growing even faster now between those with and without college educations. Neither Miami nor Tampa rank high among metros with college educated populations.

Related: Tampa Bay is dead last in median household income among the nation's largest metro areas

The widening income gap was a hot topic in the early primary season of this presidential campaign. Now it receives only occasional attention — backburnered, like so many important subjects, by rancorous political noise over far more petty issues.

Contact Robert trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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