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Florida's household income slips, signaling tougher recovery ahead

Published Sep. 21, 2012

We're still going in the wrong direction.

The income of the typical Florida family dropped 2.9 percent last year, one of the sharpest reminders that the Sunshine State's deflated economy remains mired in unemployment and lower-wage jobs. The decline means we will be financially challenged if we hope to spend our way out of this state's problems.

That decline in Florida's median household income appears in Census Bureau data released Thursday. Florida is one of 18 states to see its median household income — the amount at which half the state households make more and half make less — decline in 2011 from the previous year.

Florida's median household income dropped by $1,310 to $44,299 last year from $45,609 in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

It is the latest, significant signal that the Florida economic rebound remains on a slower, less competitive track despite the increasingly stubborn claims by Florida Gov. Rick Scott that shrinking unemployment is a sign of his success in leading the state.

Eight states reported bigger year-to-year declines in median income. Among those, Nevada was worst (down 6 percent) followed by Hawaii (5.2 percent), Louisiana (4.7 percent) and California (3.8 percent). Florida and Arizona tied, each with 2.9 percent drops, although Arizona's household income is more than $2,400 higher than Florida's.

Only 13 states reported lower media household incomes than Florida. The lowest: Mississippi at $36,919. The highest income state: Maryland's $70,004.

Nationally, median income fell by 1.3 percent to $50,502 in 2011. Florida's household income is nearly 14 percent lower, a substantial gap from the national figure. Worse, Florida's lower median household income fell faster, by 2.9 percent, than the country's overall 1.3 percent drop.

Is this the new normal? Is Florida facing a downward spiral in household income as lower-wage jobs overwhelm higher paying opportunities?

Or is this more typical of a glacial economic rebound where jobs that pay less and require fewer qualifications arrive first in bulk before higher-wage jobs revive?

A Thursday Wall Street Journal story on falling household income cites 57-year-old Donna Durham of Lakeland, who now makes $2 an hour less than she did before the recession as a machine operator at an embroidery shop. She has survived on part-time jobs. A 2009 diploma earned at a technical school that trained her to design architectural blueprints has not helped. As Durham told the Journal, those jobs were taken by laid-off engineers settling for lower-wage jobs.

In fact, the Lakeland-Winter Haven region of Florida saw a sharp 5 percent drop in its median household income to $40,272. That's the steepest decline last year of any larger Florida metro area.

Another Census Bureau report on poverty out this week says Florida's poverty rate in 2011 rose to 17 percent from 16.5 percent of the population in 2010. That's more than 3 million Floridians.

Fittingly, perhaps, these census numbers on declining median income and rising poverty became public the day after Forbes magazine unveiled its annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. Of those, 32 were identified living, apparently quite well, in Florida.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

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