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

Tampa Bay's median household income is dead last among the nation's largest 25 metro areas. CHERIE DIEZ | Times
Published Sep. 16, 2016

Alas, new and frustrating numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau cast a harsh light on Tampa Bay and other major Florida metro areas.

We are poor. Thin of wallet and purse. Paycheck laggards. At least when it comes to the rest of the nation's 25 largest metro areas.

Going forward, that makes it harder for Tampa Bay — a metro player that aspires to play in the Economic Big Leagues — to be taken as seriously as it would like on a national or even global stage.

The Tampa Bay metro area comes in last among its 25 peers with the only median household income below $50,000. Household incomes in some wealthy metro areas, like Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston, are so far ahead of Tampa Bay — as well as Orlando and Miami, which also rank poorly in the top 25 — that the comparison feels more like a First World versus a Third World country.

Even Detroit, the city that went bankrupt, is part of a metro area that enjoys higher household income than any of Florida's three major metros.

Tampa Bay, Orlando and Miami rank 25th, 24th and 23rd in income among the top 25 U.S. metro areas.

The Census Bureau pegs Tampa Bay's median household income at $48,911. That's $44,383 less than what the median household of $93,294 in Washington, D.C., the richest large metro area by this household income measure in the country. That's an extraordinary gap.

Median household income means half the households in each metro area have income above this amount, and half have income below the amount.

Related: When is the next recession going to hit Tampa Bay? Maybe sooner than you think

Even when compared with some of the Southern metro areas considered primary competitors to Tampa Bay for job expansions and corporate recruitment, Tampa Bay's income figure looks puny.

Atlanta, for example, enjoyed a median household income of $60,219. That's more than $11,000 higher than a Tampa Bay household.

Does that matter? Consider that prices of homes for sale in Atlanta and Tampa are currently very similar — the median home price in both markets is about $265,000. The sharp disparity in household income means Atlanta residents are in far better financial shape to afford a house than their Tampa Bay peers.

Worse, the Census Bureau numbers show median household income in Tampa Bay grew an estimated 4.3 percent in 2015 from 2014. Yet Atlanta's income grew 7 percent.

That's no way to upgrade our local standard of living.

There is no easy "fix" for mediocre pay. Longer term, creating better-paying jobs is the key. Just remember: Better jobs demand a workforce with higher skills and more education.

Companies operating in Tampa Bay are not eager to suddenly ratchet up their pay scales as long as there are workers with the skills they need to fill the kinds of jobs in demand. Some businesses are drawn here precisely because they know what the new Census Bureau data show: The pay is lower than elsewhere.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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