South Florida incomes have taken a bigger hit during the recession than the rest of the nation, plummeting 12 percent since 2007, new Census Bureau figures show. The survey also found a growing number of South Floridians are living below the poverty line and without health insurance.
The typical family in Broward and Palm Beach counties earned about $7,000 less in 2010 than in 2007, when the recession started. The median household -- half made more, half less –was $48,063 in Broward last year, $49,879 in Palm Beach and $40,219 in Miami-Dade.
South Florida’s high unemployment rate is the primary culprit in the region’s declining household incomes, experts say. Layoffs have forced many South Floridians to take lower-paying jobs, while others have had their hours or wages cut.
Real estate agent Judy Trudel said she took a job as a temporary Census Bureau worker in South Florida and in an accountant’s office to supplement her pay when the housing bust slashed her income. She even sold her home in Lighthouse Point to move to cheaper digs in Boca Raton.
“When your income drops you have to do something,” she said. “During the last four years, it was brutally low.’’
With record unemployment, regional poverty rates have also jumped. One in 10 Broward and Palm Beach residents were living below the poverty line in 2007. But last year, those numbers jumped to one in seven in both counties, according to the Census survey.
In addition, more than one out of four South Floridians lack health insurance, the survey found.
That has overwhelmed many social service agencies.
“Our callers are truly facing dire situations – and their condition doesn’t seem to be letting up,’’ said Patrice Schroeder, community relations specialist for the 211 community-assistance helpline in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.
Thousands of callers to the central hotline, which provides referrals to social service and welfare agencies, say they are feeling more hopeless, Schroeder said. Many can’t find work to improve conditions for their struggling families. Nearly 1,700 calls for help have been from people thinking about suicide or people concerned about loved ones’ suicidal thoughts during the first half of the year, Schroeder said. That’s a 50 percent jump in just a year.
“They are extremely distressed and overwhelmed,” said Diane Huff, director of the agency’s community services.
One reason is that the recession’s impacts continue to affect many in South Florida, even though economists say it has officially ended and the nation is in a slow recovery, she added. Many have been out of work for a year. They have exhausted savings and any social service benefits available to them, Huff said.
Just three years ago, before the housing bust hit South Florida, it was a dramatically different story. Median incomes in Broward and Palm Beach counties were in the mid-$50,000s in 2007 – Broward was $55,384 and Palm Beach at $56,207.
At that time, the two counties’ incomes topped the nation’s by at least $2,000. Now the situation has reversed: The U.S. median income was about $2,000 more in 2010 than Broward’s and about $200 more than Palm Beach’s. Between 2007 and 2010, the national median household income fell 6 percent – half the rate in South Florida – according to the Census.
Households in some communities have been hit harder than others. Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Plantation and Pompano Beach endured more than 20 percent drops in median household income.
Weston’s dropped 19 percent, from an adjusted $95,844 in 2007 to $78,030 three years later.
“What I notice in Weston is that a lot of retail businesses have closed down,’’ said Pete Garcia, who lives and works in Weston as a financial adviser. Others have taken their place with more people seeming to start their own businesses – perhaps because they have been laid off, Garcia said. “You usually don’t make a profit” at a new business for at least a couple of years, he added.
South Florida faces serious challenges in overhauling its economy to get away from an over-reliance on construction- and housing-related industries, said Howard Wial, an economist who co-authored last week’s Brookings Institution report that ranked the region in the bottom of the nation for recovering from the recession.
South Florida still has a “long painful way” to go from the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession and record unemployment, he said.
But, Wial added, eventually South Florida will rebound..
“It’s not going to be permanently depressed, but it’s not going to be high-flying either,’’ he said.