Miami incomes have climbed 43% over the past 20 years. Here’s the bad news

The median household in the Miami metro area now makes $53,775. That’s a 43-percent increase from where the area was in 1998, not adjusted for inflation.

It seems like solid growth—until you realize that the median South Florida home value has soared 172 percent over the same 20-year period, according to new data from home listings site Zillow.

As a result, a resident living in Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach counties earning the median wage must save 10 percent of his/her salary each month for 10.1 years to sock away a 20 percent down-payment on a median-priced home ($272,900.) Twenty years ago, when the median home value was $100,200, stashing away that same down payment took only 5.3 years

“It’s not the mortgage, it’s the down payment,” said Zillow economist Skylar Olsen. “Getting 20-percent down is now wildly prohibitive.”

Miamians aren’t alone. Wages are rising more slowly than home prices for residents in many major cities. But the problem seems to be particularly acute in Florida. In Tampa, incomes have climbed 53 percent since 1998, while home values have climbed 156 percent. In Orlando, home values have climbed 128 percent, while incomes have climbed only 40 percent.

Sluggish wage growth across the U.S. continues to puzzle economists, Olsen said. In the past, she said, when unemployment has been this low — currently 3.7 percent nationally — it has almost always been accompanied by fast-rising wages.

“It’s a head-scratcher,” she said.

In the past 20 years, home values have more than doubled in New York, Portland, Ore. and Washington DC, and more than tripled in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And while salaries haven’t kept pace with home values, they’ve grown much more quickly than in Florida’s major cities:


In the 36 cities Zillow studied, the median income increased 53 percent, while the median metro home value increased by 112 percent over the 20-year period.

The data are not adjusted for inflation. The Brookings Institution recently found that in real, inflation-adjusted terms, Miami incomes are about $4,000 below where they were in 1970.

Olsen says Miami faces a uniquely challenging set of circumstances that drive up housing costs: expensive coastal real estate, density restrictions in the suburbs and international demand. And yet she says the area’s real estate is not in a bubble.

“Right now what we have have is really constrained inventory at a time when demand is hot, interest rates are low, job markets are doing better and better,” she said. “It’s hot demand when you really don’t have supply.”

Eventually, though, home price growth will begin to slow, she predicts. At least, that will happen before there is a dramatic wage increase, she said.

“I don’t see a lot of other possibilities,” she said.