South Florida workers are among the poorest-paid. The ‘Miami Discount’ may be to blame.


Priced out of Paradise: City in Transition
Miami-Dade is the most expensive metro in the U.S. for renters and one of the costliest for home buyers. This series explains why that’s so and what it means for the region and its residents. Our interactive tool helps renters and buyers match their budgets to affordable neighborhoods. Future stories will explore solutions to South Florida’s housing crisis.

If you’re feeling underpaid in South Florida, you’re probably right.

In the Miami area, elementary school teachers earn about $45,000 a year, working out to approximately $21 per hour — less than in any major U.S. metro except Tucson, Ariz. Even those in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Boise, Idaho; and Tallahassee make more.

A registered nurse here makes $32.74 per hour. That’s less than in Atlanta, Dallas or Denver.

And while South Florida is famous for its high-profile law firms, the median hourly salary for a local lawyer is about $57 — less than in Philadelphia, Sacramento or Chicago.

According to the latest reports from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Floridians earn significantly less than workers in other large metros for all but a handful of occupations, like flight attendants, construction workers and security guards.

Nationwide, “the Miami metro area is among the poorest paid,” said Donald Grimes, an economist at the University of Michigan, via email. Of 33 major metros, only median wages in San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando are lower, he found.

It’s not that pay here has stalled. Between the years 2011 and 2018, median wages across the region grew 13 percent — one percentage point better than the national gain over the same time period.

In Phoenix and Raleigh, N.C., wages grew less over the same time period. But because Miami-area wages start lower than in those and many other cities, barely surpassing the national average doesn’t count for much when Miami is trying to compete.

And when you adjust for inflation, Miami-area families are in retrograde. In 2016, the county’s median household income was $45,900. In real dollars, that’s less than the $49,800 earned in 1970, according to Alan Berube, senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

Spreadsheet: How South Florida pay stacks up

But for Grimes, South Florida’s biggest problem isn’t low pay in its many working-class jobs, like hotel housekeepers, who earn $10.97 at the median, more than maids in Orlando or Hilton Head, S.C.

“Your problem is not that you pay lower-skilled workers too little but that you pay higher skilled workers too little,” he wrote.

Carlos Caballero, un camarero de 25 años en el Aeropuerto Internacional de Miami y padre de una hija pequeña, gana menos de $ 6 por hora como camarero, y debe confiar en las propinas para ganar el salario mínimo de la Florida.  Por Matias J. Ocner