The good news is Tampa Bay's median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation's 25 largest metro areas.
This is not a new predicament for Tampa Bay. I wrote about this frankly discouraging bottom-of-the-wealth-barrel last year when Tampa Bay also ranked 25th with median household income in 2015. The increase from 2015 to 2016 comes to about 3.5 percent. That's commendable growth. But is it keeping up with Tampa Bay's metro neighbors?
Here's the challenge.
How does a metro area like Tampa Bay that wants to do Big Things — whether it's host Super Bowls or strive to make a legitimate pitch to become the home of Amazon "HQ2" (its second headquarters) or simply sustain healthy fan bases for NFL, MLB and NHL (and maybe MLS) pro sports franchises — keep up with all those other competing metro areas that are, in many cases, simply full of richer households?
At $51,115, Tampa Bay's median household income represents the metro's halfway point. Half of our households here have less income and half have more income.
Does landing 25th in income, again, among top the 25 metros really mean much? Is it an Achilles Heel to Tampa Bay competing for new businesses, the most talented workers or fresh capital to support new ideas?
This past week in Tampa, Moffitt Cancer Center's innovative M2Gen start-up nabbed a $75 million equity stake from Hearst. Vinik-Cascade Investment's Strategic Property Partners started construction on USF's new medical school in downtown Tampa. And new GDP numbers out indicated Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016.
Those events hardly describe some wallflower community stuck in the slow lane.
But a metro with household incomes leaner than their peers inevitably is at a disadvantage. Households have less spending money. The area by necessity becomes a little more risk averse.
The new Census Bureau ranking of the nation's top 25 metro areas and their relative incomes is revealing. Here are five takeaways:
• The three "poorest" in median household income of the 25 metro areas are all in Florida. Tampa Bay, poorest at 25th, is followed closely by Miami at 24th and Orlando at 23rd.
• Last year's ranking showed Washington, D.C. tops in median household income but San Francisco blew by the nation's capital in the 2016 ranking. San Francisco income grew 8.1 percent to $96,677, while Washington, D.C. increased only 1.5 percent to $95,843. Both metro areas boast the biggest incomes, well above No. 3 Boston at $82,380. San Francisco's meteoric rise reflects the spread of Silicon Valley tech companies, workers and extreme salaries into the city.
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• What's the difference, therefore, between No. 1 San Francisco and No. 25 Tampa Bay median household income? An astonishing $45,562. And what's the difference in income growth rates in the past year between San Francisco and Tampa Bay? Try 8.1 percent versus 3.5 percent. Yes, it costs a fortune to live in San Francisco but that is not stopping people, especially tech talent, from flocking there.
• No. 25 Tampa Bay's $51,115 income grew 3.5 percent last year while No. 23 Orlando's $52,385 income grew only 1.6 percent. If that difference in growth continues, Tampa Bay will soon pass Orlando by this measure. On the other hand, Orlando's income standing above Tampa Bay's counters the myth that Orlando is a metro driven largely by cheap-paying theme park and tourism jobs. Orlando has also generated more jobs in recent years than any other metro area in Florida. Orlando's jobless rate is 3.8 percent while Tampa Bay's is close behind at 4 percent.
• Only one metro area among the country's top 25 saw a decline, though a small one, in its median household income. Houston's figure fell 0.4 percent to $61,708, probably due to low oil prices and the city's heavy dependence on good paying energy jobs. The economic wild card going forward for Houston, of course, is how badly it was damaged by the floods of Hurricane Harvey and how long it will take to rebound.
• The three fastest growing of the top 25 metro areas by household income this past year were Charlotte, up 8.6 percent to $59,979; San Francisco, up 8.1 percent to $96,677; and Portland, up 6.8 percent to $68,676. The three slow growers were San Antonio, up only 1 percent to $56,105; Philadelphia, up 0.5 percent to $66,996; and Houston, off 0.4 percent to $61,708.
And how did Florida's median household income do statewide? It also crack $50,000 in 2016, hitting $50,860 but only grew 2 percent. That's a lower income figure and slower growth rate than Tampa Bay enjoyed.
But here's a critical perspective. Only 11 states have median household incomes lower than Florida. And Florida's $51,115 remains well below the nationwide median household income of $59,036. Nationally, that income figure grew 3.5 percent — faster than median household income grew in the Sunshine State.
Bottom line: Tampa Bay and Florida remain in an uphill struggle to make household income headway against their metro and state peers. A big X factor for Florida in the coming year is how much of an economic impact Hurricane Irma will have in the state.
Significant income change in Florida —if it occurs — will be measured in decades.
Contact Robert Trigaux at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @venturetampabay.