Reports show growing financial squeeze for most Florida workers

From 2009-12, the top 1 percent saw income rise 39 percent. The rest saw a 7 percent drop.

Published January 27 2015

Economists pinpoint the end of the Great Recession as 2009, but for most Floridians, the financial squeeze has only gotten worse.

Income disparity is growing faster and there is a higher percentage of low-wage jobs being created in Florida compared with most places in the United States, according to a pair of reports coming out this week.

The studies found:

• A whopping 61 percent of job openings in Florida pay less than the estimated living wage for a single adult, according to an analysis by the Alliance for a Just Society, a network pushing for racial, social and economic changes.

• Between 2009 and 2012, the top 1 percent of Florida wage earners saw their income rise 39.5 percent while the bottom 99 percent saw income fall 7.1 percent, according to a study released Monday by EARN, the Economic Analysis and Research Network in Washington, D.C., a national, progressive coalition. That gives Florida the fourth-highest income disparity between average wages of the top 1 percent ($1.49 million) and average wages of everybody else ($34,387).

Another way to look at it: The average income of Florida's top 1 percent is 43 times higher than the average income of the rest.

The New York Times picked up on a similar theme Monday with an analysis showing the main reason the middle class has been shrinking since 2000 is because more people have fallen to the bottom.

The reports are hardly the first to suggest the nation's economic recovery so far has been bifurcated, with the wealthiest enjoying a surge in stock prices that have fattened portfolios and many of the rest muddling through a prolonged period of stagnant wages and reduced hours.

But the analyses back up those who believe Florida — with a large dose of lower-paying retail, tourism and other service jobs — has been affected at a disproportionately higher rate.

In Florida, average income grew 3.4 percent between 2009 and 2012. Because the bottom 99 percent lost ground those years, that meant the top 1 percent captured 260 percent of the total income growth, second only to Delaware as the highest percentage in the country.

The EARN report found that, nationwide, the economic picture has been lopsided as well, with the top 1 percent capturing 95 percent of all income growth over the three-year span.

Separately, the Low Wage Nation report honed in on how many of the country's newly created jobs fall shy of the "living wage" a full-time worker needs to make basic ends meet with a little left over to plan for emergencies.

Using the benchmark of $15 an hour wages in 2013 dollars, the alliance found that 48 percent of new job openings fall below a living wage and two of five existing jobs are under the cutoff.

"America is becoming a low-wage nation and, without action, the living wage crisis will only continue to worsen," the report warned.

Researchers dissected Florida's job creation two ways. In both cases, the news wasn't encouraging.

Sixty-one percent of job openings statewide pay less than $16.98 an hour, the estimated living wage in Florida for a single adult.

Using $15 as a living-wage benchmark — just for comparison purposes — Florida would rank 11th worst among states, with 54 percent of jobs below the cutoff.

For a single adult with two children, the options dwindle further with 90 percent of job openings paying less than the family's living wage of $30.43 an hour.

The Low Wage Nation report concludes with a smattering of recommendations. Among them:

• Invest in job growth in higher-paying industries like health care, which have the added benefit of generating social value in addition to boosting wages.

• Increase minimum wages. In 2013, Congress failed to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would have increased the federal wage floor to $10.10 an hour from $7.25.

• Establish work supports like paid sick days and paid maternity leave.

• Raise taxes on high-income earners and create a financial transaction tax to "level the playing field" by taxing certain large financial transactions.

• Eliminate the subminimum wage known as the "tipped minimum wage," which currently states that workers who receive tips may be paid a minimum of $2.13 an hour.

Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.