There are many long-standing myths in Martin County that create divisiveness in our community. One of our goals is to educate the public and create a more informed citizenry by exposing these myths and providing the facts to our friends and neighbors.
In this issue, we discuss Myth #6:
Martin County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state.
In this e-newsletter we debunk another Martin County myth. We hear it regularly: Martin County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state. It's true that for the past decade, the income of its residents consistently ranks our county among the top three in Florida. Yet a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation for the United Way shows that 41 percent of Martin County's wage-earners do not earn enough to keep pace with Martin County's cost of living. Seventeen percent of these wage-earners live in poverty.
Even with its median household income of $52,622 annually, as compared to the state's $48,900, and a median wage among workers of $42,252, as compared to the state's $38,899 – placing Martin County third highest overall – our families face serious challenges that impact their quality of life.
A closer examination of U.S. Census Bureau statistics gives us the true picture of the state's third-wealthiest county.
FACT: Median incomes indicate only the mid-point of earnings – half earn more and the other half earn less. The wealthier residents of Jupiter Island and other exclusive communities within Martin County skew the median-wage statistics. Tiger Woods alone earned $45 million in 2017, an off-year for the professional golfer, and Martin County is home to numerous other professional athletes, entertainers and titans of industry.
FACT: Martin County's more typical wage-earners in the 35- to 54-year-old range – the ages that earning power rises – show that 25 percent are living in poverty, although employed.
Let’s break it down even further and look at some of the statistics as they relate directly to jobs and commuting.
FACT: Thirty-five percent of the jobs available to Martin County residents offer less than $20,000 annually. Sixty-eight percent of the jobs offer salaries of less than $50,000. A quarter of the total number of jobs are only part time.
FACT: Martin County’s leading industry is “retirement.” The percentage of our population aged 65 or greater has been double the national average since 1990. Outside of the temporary jobs related to the planning and construction of assisted-living facilities, the industry generates primarily lower-wage service-related jobs.
FACT: The lack of high-wage jobs in Martin County results in 33 percent of the working population commuting an average of 52 minutes daily back and forth to jobs outside of the county. The statewide average of workers commuting outside of county boundaries, according to a 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology economic study, is 17.5 percent.
FACT: Three percent of Martin County's work force has a commute greater than 180 minutes.
The impact on families is direct but the issue is multi-faceted. The lack of high-wage jobs slams hard against the average cost of homes in Martin County forcing many families to cross county boundaries to buy an affordable home elsewhere.
FACT: By analyzing city and county employee residential addresses, we can get a sense of the scope of out-migration. More than 40 percent of county employees live outside Martin County. Nearly 50 percent of the City of Stuart’s employees live outside the county. Around 30 percent of Martin County School District employees also live outside county lines.
The result is an “outflow” of cash that ordinarily would be contributing to the overall economy if those employees lived in – and spent – their salaries and paid property taxes within Martin County boundaries. They earn their taxpayer-generated income here, but the cash circulates next door. We are essentially exporting our taxpayers.
FACT: An MIT study estimates that the minimum income required to purchase a home in Martin County is $70,000. The average cost of a new home built in 2016 was $511,000. No wonder our residents buy houses in Port St. Lucie!
FACT: The same study shows that in 2000, there were 1,384 permits for new homes issued here, which dropped to 199 in 2010, rising to 375 new homes in 2016. Although the housing market is improving, we still lack essential housing that is affordable for the majority of residents.
The Board of County Commissioners recognized a few months ago that we, indeed, are in the midst of a housing crisis, in part due to the county's previous zero-growth policies. They instructed the Growth Management Department to begin an assessment of housing capacity and needs over the upcoming months to make recommendations to the board regarding the direction of future development.
Making it possible to keep families here is only one prong in improving the quality of life for all families. The other is to look beyond the number of jobs available, which has decreased the unemployment rate to 3.9 percent, to the quality of the jobs offered.
All of these statistical facts do not jive with the image of Martin County being the third-richest county in the state, particularly in the face of a multi-million-dollar backlog of infrastructure repair; the pending imposition of a fire fee for every residence and commercial property; a potential increase in millage rates by the county and the school board; the imposition of a new stormwater utility fee; and an increase in sales tax.
We need leaders who recognize that a good quality of life for all our citizens requires more than protecting our environment and improving our waterways. As important as that focus is, we need them also to pay attention to what is happening in other facets of life here. We want them to understand that equally important as our environment are the people who live here.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; TownCharts.com; Federal Reserve Economic Research, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research; Martin County Metropolitan Planning Organization; Florida International University Department of Economics; United Way of Martin County ALICE Report; Department of Urban Studies and Planning Massachusetts Institute of Technology.