Paying a Price for the Sunshine Lower Cost-of-Living Factors Don't Even Uneven Paychecks
Bryant-Friedland, Bruce, Finotti, John, The Florida Times Union
Jacksonville area workers earn 9 percent less the average wage for
the rest of the United States. For many, the decision to stay here
Howard Henderson, a machinist with more than two decades of
experience, would like to be working in his native Northeast
But he couldn't find a job that used his skills or paid him
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
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
"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
The differences in pay between Jacksonville and Charlotte are
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. …