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If You're Poor In Florida, You're Better Off Working In Miami

Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, Emmanuel Saez

Children from low income families in Florida have the best chance of achieving a higher income level if they grow up in Miami.


I was.  Based on my layman's understanding, I thought we would have low rates of income mobility.

We have one of the highest income gaps in the country, second only to the New York metro area. The average SAT score in Miami-Dade is lower than the state’s and the nation’s.

But looking at millions of earnings records across the U.S., a team of economists from Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley found that people in the Miami metro area had a decent shot of moving up. 

All those low-paying jobs aren't necessarily a bad thing.

A Miami child in the bottom fifth income level had a 7.4 percent chance of rising to the top fifth, the highest rate of mobility in the state. Miami tied with Pensacola. The lowest rate was Jacksonville's at 5.3 percent.

FIU politics professor Dario Moreno wasn’t surprised by the finding. He says that despite Miami’s “pathologies,” such as a lack of high-paying jobs, immigration has helped our numbers.  “What we know about first-generation immigrants is that they work very hard so that their kids have better lives than they did.”

And all those low-paying jobs aren’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Economist Mark Vitner with Wells Fargo points out, “Something that gets lost in all that discussion about low-end jobs is they can be entry-level positions for folks in transition, who are going to school, for instance.  A dead-end job is only a dead-end job if you want it to be.”

Of course, Miami didn’t exactly shine when compared to other metro areas across the country.  We were solidly average: on a ranking of 100 metro areas, we placed 39th for income mobility.