[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Poverty in Miami

Friday, September 01, 2006

Poverty in Miami

A Miami Herald editorial on Miami ranking third-worst in the nation in poverty does a good job of covering the basic reasons why The Magic City ranks so high. 

Here they are, in the order of mention in the editorial:
  • Low wages
  • Cost of living
  • Lack of good education
  • Steady stream of immigrants
  • Competition for low-paying jobs
All valid reasons.  My number one reason is:

Steady stream of immigrants.

All the other reasons, for the most part, can be tied to this.  This is not an indictment or criticism of immigrants.  Far from it.  I am the product of immigrants.  But it's obvious that large, continuous waves of mostly poor people from Latin America with little if any English language skills and probably little quality education in their home country arriving in the same city will assuredly keep poverty numbers high. Lack of a good education can be attributed to the fact that these people have a lot of catching up to do...it's no coincidence that the poorest-performing schools in Miami-Dade County have a disproportionately high number of recently-arrived immigrants with little English skills. 

The competition for low wages does two things, it keeps wages low because of high demand for any job and keeps those workers from rapidly gaining wealth.

There's not much we can do about stopping immigrants from coming here, nor do I think we should do anything to stop them. Miami has had tons of great contributions from them. But we need to pay these people more to make their transition easier.  They could "only" work 2 jobs and have time to go to school to learn English (night English classes are already in high demand and well-attended).
The editorial accurately points out that despite the high poverty level, those who come here with good skills and a good education move up quickly.   We could fix the mess in the Housing Agency and make affordable housing easier to find.  There's lots we can do.

Still, every time the poverty numbers come out with Miami near the top, I can't help but think of where these people really are. Perhaps they're well-disguised in the late-model cars and SUVs that clog our roads. I go to some of the poorer parts of town enough to wonder.  One would think that if they are indeed living beyond their means, you would start seeing them and their cars disappear left and right. However, traffic and congestion aren't decreasing.

Seriously, I know poor people are out there. But it is as bad as the Census Report makes it out to be?  Food for thought.


Blogger Jonathan said...

Poverty as it's been known in history -- people who are too poor to buy food, clothes or shelter -- is almost nonexistent in the modern USA. People who come to this country poor generally move up quickly. People who remain poor in the USA generally have mental-health issues or have made bad life-decisions, but those aren't problems that can be helped by throwing money at them or blaming the rest of us.

The problem with the kind of crap analysis typified by the "Miami has a high poverty rate" hype is that it looks only at snapshots and ignores what happens to people over time. The people who were poor in Miami ten years ago aren't necessarily the same people who are poor now. A lot of the people who were poor then have become substantially wealthier. Yet the superficial, snapshot view that sees only that x people were poor then and x people are poor now ignores these routine success stories.

We all know numerous individuals who came here as poor immigrants and became successful over time, yet journalists would have us believe that the many personal success stories we have seen with our own eyes are an illusion.

5:35 PM, September 02, 2006  
Blogger Robert said...

I agree Jonathan, and your analysis helps to explain my observation that it's not too easy to find the crushing poverty the Census Bureau says we have, unless of course we go deep into the poorest neighborhoods. It's there, don't get me wrong, but it's not as epidemic as the analysis suggests.

7:06 PM, September 02, 2006  
Blogger Henry "Conductor" Gomez said...

You have to be careful with these rankings. The New Times did cover stories two years in a row about Miami being the poorest city in the country. Here's the catch, they were talking about the CITY OF MIAMI but in their article use the city and the metro area interchangeably which, as you know, is not fair or accurate in any way.

So the CITY OF MIAMI is poor. What does that tell us? Yes the reasons are the ones stated in the editorial but you are DEAD ON ACCURATE when you talk about immigrants. Keeping in mind what I mentioned above, when immigrants arrive in south Florida they are very likely to settle within the CITY OF MIAMI. The reason is that this is where a large number of Spanish speakers are concentrated and where housing is the most affordable. As people improve their financial situation they move out of the CITY OF MIAMI and into other cities, villages and unincorporated parts of South Florida. That makes THE CITY OF MIAMI into a kind of stepping stone community. Residents leave and new ones take their place. If you go to little Havana you will find that there really aren't many Cubans left around there. They are in Hialeah, Kendall, Coral Gables, South Miami, etc.

Does it suck for the CITY OF MIAMI that it's a poor city? Yes, but we have to be careful about branding the entirety of South Florida (4 million population) or Miami-Dade county (2.376 Million population) by the characteristics of its most famous municipality (386,000 Population).

3:26 AM, September 03, 2006  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Very good points, Henry.

Another point is that measures of poverty in this country usually look only at income and ignore wealth. Many people have substantial wealth but small incomes. They are not poor but income-based poverty surveys count them as poor.

6:18 PM, September 04, 2006  

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