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Income inequality plagues Miami more than most cities in U.S.

Miami fourth in nation when it comes to gap between rich, poor

A homeless person sleeps on the floor in Miami, as volunteers and homeless outreach officials walk in the area during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.
A homeless person sleeps on the floor in Miami, as volunteers and homeless outreach officials walk in the area during the Point In Time Homeless Census, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (AP FILE)

MIAMI – As the rich grew richer, the inequality trend was magnified in Miami, according to an analysis of 2013 U.S. census data.

Miami was the fourth-highest among U.S. cities when in it comes to income inequality. Atlanta placed first, and San Francisco and Boston followed.

Higher incomes at the top continue to push out lower-income residents, as the city remains the least affordable for renters and foreign investors price out local buyers out of the real estate market.

"In some ways, the top and the bottom seem to be living in somewhat separate economies," said Alan Berube, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program.

At least not in the short term, higher incomes among the wealthy did not seem to be lifting earnings among the poor, according to a Brookings Institution analysis on income inequality that looked at the data of the 50 largest cities.

As it stands today, households at the 95th income percentile in Miami make almost 15 times as much as the 20th percentile. While the nationwide average is at 9.3, in Atlanta, the top makes almost 20 times as much. And in San Francisco -- where incomes far exceed those in other cities -- the top makes just over 17 times as much.

Miami's 20th percentile earned at most $11,497 in 2013, while incomes at the 95th percentile topped about $170,000 a year.

Also, households near the bottom of the income ladder in Miami did not benefit from the significant gains accruing to high-income households. While the top have recovered the income they lost during the recession (in adjusted dollars), the poor still had lower incomes in 2013 than they did in 2007.

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Berube added that the study suggests "that market forces alone are not going to help close this gap."

The policy-research group found that while the minimum wage is a potentially important means for helping low-earner households living in high-cost places, there are other effective strategies to consider.

"Local policymakers should not ignore the other tools they have at hand -- from education to economic development to housing and zoning policies," the analysis said. These "are essential for improving social mobility and sustaining income diversity."

The Washington Post's Emily Badger contributed to this story. The authors of the Brookings Institution analys are Berube and Natalie Holmes.

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