FIU Study: Middle Class Is Shrinking

Sep 14, 2016

An FIU study finds a decline in Florida’s middle class as both the upper class and working class expand.
Credit Lauren Moore/flickr

The middle class has fewer and fewer job opportunities in Florida according to the newest edition of an annual report called “The State of Working Florida.” The study looks at how the jobs available, as well as the pay and benefits they offer, affect prospects for climbing the economic ladder. Researchers studied the years from 2009 to 2014.

"The good news is that there have been a considerable amount of middle class workers who have made their way to the upper class, and this has largely been facilitated by the growth of occupations in math and engineering," says Alí Bustamante, an instructor and researcher at Florida International University's Center for Labor Research & Studies. "The downside is that a couple of industries that have historically facilitated upward mobility from the working class into the middle class - and also from the middle class into the upper class - have actually declined, and one of the biggest occupations that's been hit is sales and related jobs."

One of the key findings is an increase in the number of jobs that pay less than $10 an hour and less than $15 an hour. The research suggests that being "working class" means having an income that is actually decreasing, and workers are more likely to stay in those types of jobs for a longer duration because wages aren't increasing enough to give them a way out.

"It certainly paints a relatively dark picture. We certainly rely on wage growth and incomes rising to really fuel economic growth. I mean,  when we think of consumer spending, that is really the main driver of our economy," Bustamante says. "These good jobs that have been historically part of the middle class and of the working class aren't there in the numbers that they were in the past. They're being largely replaced by these lower wage occupations, particularly in the case of food service."

The study also shows a significant pay gap among men versus women as well as pay gaps along racial and ethnic lines.

The report suggests policy recommendations like boosting pay for working class jobs, stepping up efforts to stop workplace discrimination and improving educational outcomes - especially in college graduation rates.