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Report: Growth of wages for high-paid Florida workers outpace those of low-paid workers

Put this one in the "rich get richer" category.

Since 1980, wages of the highest-paid quarter of Florida workers have grown nearly three times faster than those at the bottom fourth of the pay scale.

In fact, the bottom 25 percent of wage earners saw their pay rise less than $2,000 between 1980 and 2013, a 14 percent increase. In contrast, the highest-paid 25 percent saw wages rise more than $28,000 over the same 33-year span, a 47 percent jump.

That's one of the key findings in Florida International University's annual "State of Working Florida" report coming out today.

"We see a really clear picture that most of the wage growth is happening to one select group of workers: the higher-wage workers," report author Ali Bustamante said. "Professional workers are seeing a lot of wage growth; the great majority of people are not."

On past Labor Days, researchers at FIU have dissected everything from the plight of young workers to the consequences of stagnant wages to racial inequality.

In this, their 11th annual analysis, they set out to answer two key questions. How big is the wage gap between Florida's richest and poorest workers? And how much has it changed over time?

The answer might not surprise many struggling to make ends meet. Wage inequality, which was already a huge gap three decades ago, has worsened considerably.

The biggest jump in wages since 1980 came during the technology boom between 1995 and 2000.

Since then, it hasn't been a pretty picture. Wage earners in all categories are still struggling to return to pre-recession levels, with many earning close to what they were making in 2005.

But the stagnation has been far worse for the bottom 25 percent who are still making slightly less than they were in 2000. The top 25 percent have seen wages rise from $84,965 to $88,618 during that 13-year span.

As a result, it's not only harder for low-paid workers to escape poverty; they're falling further behind.

That's not a Florida-specific phenomenon. A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau found that the median wealth of the poorest 20 percent of American households was negative $6,029 in 2011, compared with negative $905 a decade ago.

FIU said some progress has been made, particularly by women and minorities. But social mobility remains elusive to many, a problem that Bustamante argued should be addressed through a higher minimum wage and a greater emphasis on on-the-job training and skill development. The report also calls for a crackdown on workplace discrimination and wage theft.

Here are a half-dozen other takeaways:

College can really pay off. The greatest wage disparity is tied to educational attainment. In 2013, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher earned $24,960 more a year than workers with only a high school degree.

Getting a college degree doesn't guarantee a high-end income. But not going to college makes it more difficult than ever to rise toward the top. The share of top 25 percent wage earners without a college education has shrunk from 43 to 15 percent since 1980.

Offshoring and outsourcing has taken a toll. Workers without a high school education are earning less than they were in 1980. Economists have repeatedly pointed to the decline of manufacturing in the U.S. as a chief reason.

There are still trade jobs and strong demand in niche fields like welding, but increasingly less-educated workers are flooding into low-paying sectors like retail and tourism. Florida's recent construction bust only exacerbated the problem.

Racial inequality persists. Between 1980 and 2013, the wages of whites grew at an annual rate of 5 percent, compared with 4 percent for blacks and 3 percent for Latinos. In 2013, whites earned an annual median wage that was $10,000 higher than that of blacks and Latinos.

As of last year, blacks were three times more likely and Latinos 2.4 times more likely to be in poverty than whites.

Women are closing the gap. Between 1980 and 2013, the wage disparity between men and women declined a "whopping" 31 percent, the report noted. That drop — a quicker pace than the rest of the country — was due to women's wages growing at an annual rate of 6 percent since 1985 as men's wages went up 2 percent annually.

Despite the improvement, men were still earning $9,672 more than women, on average, in 2013.

Some things in Florida just don't change . . . Since 1985, the lowest-paying industries in Florida have remained consistent. Among the lowest: private household services like cleaning and yardwork; food services and drinking places; agriculture; textile and apparel manufacturing; personal services; retail trade; accommodations; and social services.

• . . . except when it comes to higher-paying jobs. Since the early 2000s, the roster of best-paying jobs has morphed to include professional and technical services, computer manufacturing and Internet service industries.

One of the biggest surprises of the report, Bustamante said, is that education and retail are accounting for more high-paying jobs as well as lower-paying jobs. In the case of retail, he suggested that shows a growing dichotomy between higher-end companies that pay retail workers well with benefits (like Trader Joe's or Costco) versus those that persist with lower wages (like Walmart).

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

Report: Growth of wages for high-paid Florida workers outpace those of low-paid workers 08/31/14 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2014 6:46pm]

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