Paying a Price for the Sunshine Lower Cost-of-Living Factors Don't Even Uneven Paychecks

Article excerpt

Jacksonville area workers earn 9 percent less the average wage for

the rest of the United States. For many, the decision to stay here

is ...

Howard Henderson, a machinist with more than two decades of

experience, would like to be working in his native Northeast

Florida.

But he couldn't find a job that used his skills or paid him

enough.

So, five years ago, Henderson migrated to Charlotte, N.C., and

a job in a machine shop, grinding and crafting the cranks,

shafts and parts used in industrial machinery.

Today, Henderson, 53, earns $17 an hour. That's $3 more than

his previous job in Daytona Beach.

Still, Henderson and his wife, Barbara, miss North Florida's

palm trees, warm weather and, most of all, their 2-year-old

grandson, who lives with his parents in Jacksonville.

"If Howard could have his job in Jacksonville, Orlando or

Daytona, and I could do what I do," said Barbara Henderson, who

makes $7 an hour in an ice cream and sandwich shop, "I'd move

back to Florida in a second."

The Hendersons reflect a local fact of life that hasn't changed

despite Jacksonville's roaring economic boom and the presence of

an NFL team.

In 1996, the average Jacksonville-area worker earned $26,365.

But even after adjusting for our lower cost of living and

taxes, paychecks were bigger in Atlanta, Charlotte and

Nashville, Tenn., the cities of the New South that we're

compared to by civic and business leaders.

This gap translates into a lower standard of living for the

region's workers and families. Jacksonville workers can afford

fewer of the creature comforts that make life better, from nicer

homes to more presents for their children at holiday time.

Wages in Jacksonville, on average, are nearly 9 percent lower

than the national average of $28,945, according to data taken

from the state and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adjusted

for lower taxes and the cost of living, wages are still about 3

percent less than the national average.

There is, however, is a silver lining in this disheartening

data.

An analysis shows that adjusting for cost of living and taxes

wipes out the advantage of those earning the bigger average

salaries of the Northeast. In fact, the average worker on the

First Coast enjoys a better standard of living than his or her

counterpart in New York City, Boston or Philadelphia.

And the Jacksonville area, which consists of Duval, Clay,

Nassau and St. Johns counties, beats other large cities in

Florida. So while the average worker in Miami makes more than

his or her counterpart in Jacksonville, South Florida's higher

cost of living gobbles up more than the extra $2,000 that the

average Dade worker takes home in his or her paycheck.

All of this is of little comfort to the Hendersons and others

who would like to see better jobs and higher wages in

Jacksonville.

"Fifteen dollars to $20 an hour buys a decent living," said

Shelba Hartley, president of the Communications Workers of

America Local 3106. "A single person making $10 an hour has a

difficult time."

The differences in pay between Jacksonville and Charlotte are

striking.

The average wage-earner in Charlotte made $31,152, or about

$14.98 per hour, in 1996. That's almost $4,800 a year, or $2.30

an hour, more than the $26,365 a year that the average

Jacksonville worker earned.

Even adjusting for North Carolina's state and local taxes and

Charlotte's higher cost of living -- the median price of a house

there is about $123,000, about 45 percent higher than

Jacksonville -- the average Charlotte worker has 11 percent more

to spend than a First Coast counterpart. …