To be poor in America is to give up every second of your free time. It means working ten- or 12-hour shifts folding towels at luxury Miami Beach resorts, only to ride multiple buses two hours there, two hours back, waking up at 4 a.m., and getting home at 8 every night. It means skipping voting or your kids' graduation because you don't get paid time off.
And it means an 80-hour workweek just to afford a tiny home.
According to a study the nonprofit National Low-Income Housing Coalition released yesterday, minimum-wage earners living in Miami-Dade County need to work more than 80 hours each week to barely scrape by in a one-bedroom home. The report says this requires two full-time jobs.
According to the coalition, the same is true for nearly every major city in the nation, from Seattle to Los Angeles to Houston to New York. A minimum-wage earner in a city like Miami would have to work close to 12 hours per day seven days a week. Again: That's to rent a one-bedroom place.
"The problem is systemic and is reaching almost epidemic proportions," U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison wrote in a preface to the study. "Rents are soaring in every state and community at the same time when most Americans haven’t seen enough of an increase in their paychecks. The result: More than 7 million extremely low-income families do not have an affordable place to call home and half a million people are living on the street, in shelters, or in their cars on any given night."
Broken down further, the report's data shows more than just the very poor are getting squeezed: In Miami, a person or household needs to earn $24.90 per hour to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment. ("Comfortably" means spending 30 percent or less of one's income on rent.) That translates to about $51,792 per year.
Miami's median wages have always been extremely low. According to county data, the city's median income is just $43,000 per year, which means way more than half the county's residents cannot afford their own two-bedroom home. (The study says the city's median income is $51,000 per year, but it's unclear where that higher figure came from.)
Though the study claims Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach are actually both more expensive when it comes to rent, it notes that incomes in both cities are much higher than that of Miami — by more than $10,000 and $15,000, respectively. Believe it or not, a two-bedroom place in the Florida Keys runs an average of $32.35 per hour.
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Statewide, the "housing wage" that would allow Florida residents to afford a two-bedroom home is $20.68, which ranks 17th in the nation. The low number is thanks to rural counties in the north and central parts of the state; densely packed states and areas such as Hawaii; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; and New Jersey made up the top ten.
If you're a minimum-wage earner, you can effectively kiss a two-bedroom home goodbye. Across Florida, employees making minimum wage need 102-hour weeks to make ends meet and would need to hold two jobs plus a part-time gig. That's 14.5 hours per day.
As a result, the poor in Miami and most other major American cities have been pushed farther and farther out of town. Last month, the Miami Herald demonstrated that most of Miami Beach's luxury hotel housekeepers live far from the city and are forced to live a nightmarish, dystopian existence of commuting on county buses for hours each day just to survive. Miami basically forces the poor to live in nonstop highway traffic.
Not only is this plainly frustrating, but it also has far deeper consequences: Poor Miami parents can't get home to help their kids with homework. They can't drive their children to or from school. They can't take care of ailing family members. And they can't wait until the city builds more affordable housing.