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Census snapshot of South Florida: Poverty up, wealth down

Housing values crashed. Renting became more popular. Much of the population slipped a rung down the wealth ladder. And Miami seems to be booming.

A deluge of Census data released Tuesday crystalized some of the trends under way as South Florida reckons with a wrenching economic downturn, a tepid recovery and a transformed real estate market. One side effect: Thousands of cheap urban condos built during the boom are now attracting renters and bargain hunters. The city of Miami, the center of the nation's condo building binge, saw its population surge 25 percent this year to about 433,000, according to the numbers.

``A lot of people are moving to Miami,'' said Dario Gonzalez, a researcher at Florida International University's Metropolitan Center.

The 2009 data offers another snapshot of how the recession has reshaped daily life across the region, leaving a legacy of depressed housing prices and double-digit unemployment.

``In Florida the recession hit even harder than it did nationally. That's certainly what's showing up in those numbers,'' said Mark Vitner, a Wells Fargo economist who covers Florida. ``States where housing prices fell the most tend to be the ones that are taking the biggest hits to household income.''

The figures break down the Census survey from 2009, offering snapshots on population, income, poverty and wealth. By offering comparisons as far back as 2006, the numbers bookend the waning months of South Florida's boom times and what economist so far think will be the year the economy hit bottom.

Among the sharp changes documented in the survey:

• The typical household saw income drop from boom to bust. In 2006, the mean household income in Broward was almost $77,000. That dropped to $69,000 by 2009. In Miami-Dade, the income slump went from $67,000 to $63,000.

• Cheap houses are on the rise. Pricey ones are in retreat.

Last year, only 6 percent of houses in Miami-Dade were valued at between $50,000 and $90,000. If that seems small, it's a huge increase from 2006, when less than 3 percent of homes fell in that price range.

In the same time span, houses worth between $300,000 and $500,000 went from 34 percent of the housing stock to just 22 percent. Broward saw a similar shift.

• More houses sit empty as the region recovers from an ill-advised building boom. Just 14 percent of Broward homes were vacant in 2006, compared to 19 percent in 2009. For Miami-Dade, the shift went from 13 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2009.

• Renters occupied 40 percent of Miami-Dade's homes in 2006; that's climbed to 43 percent in 2009. In Broward, the trend was the same: up from 29 percent to 32 percent.

• Poverty expanded. In 2006, 8 percent of Broward residents saw their income slip below the poverty level, which the Census says is $21,756 a year for a family of four. Broward's impoverished population increased to 9 percent last year. In Miami-Dade, the shift went from 13 percent in 2006 to 14 percent in 2009.

The numbers arrive at an uneasy juncture for an economy that experts say has shifted from recession into sluggish growth. And the lower incomes help explain why consumers aren't eager to start spending again.

Nationally, consumer confidence fell more than expected in September -- slipping nearly five points to 48.5, according to a Conference Board report issued Tuesday. That's a reading of a ``quite grim'' national mood, the Board said. In Florida, consumer confidence actually inched higher, shaking off a plunge caused by the BP oil spill over the summer.

But September's reading of 68 in the University of Florida confidence gauge -- the highest since May -- still suggests a state gloomy about its prospects, said Chris McCarty, director of UF's Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. But for those enjoying the recovery -- feeling secure in their jobs, watching their stock holdings gain value -- confidence is building.

``I think things are becoming more clear, to the upside,'' McCarty said. ``The clarity is that what's going to happen is the economy is going to recover. But there is going to be persistent, elevated unemployment, probably through 2011.''

The jobless rate hasn't kept real estate sales from growing, even as prices remain depressed. FIU's Gonzalez sees a historic buyer's market shaping the Census data.

He notes that Miami-Dade's population remained stable in the Census count -- up 4 percent to about 2.5 million -- suggesting Miami's distressed real estate market is causing people to move into the city. And Miami Beach, a far more stable waterfront housing market, saw about a 7 percent increase in population between 2008 and 2009 to 88,000 residents.

``If you're going to buy property, you're probably going to go to Miami,'' Gonzalez said. ``You're not going to go to Kendall. At least I wouldn't.''

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/29/1847467/census-snapshot-of-s-florida-poverty.html#ixzz112OzTHbr
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