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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Despite minimum wage increase and growing Florida economy, many workers are struggling

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Minimum wage increases one dollar per year in Florida after voters approved the increase in November 2020.

Experts say not all workers in the labor market are benefitting equally from high job growth and low unemployment in Florida.

While Florida is posting near-historic low unemployment rates and strong job growth, experts say that's not the full picture.

Wages for common Florida industries, including leisure and hospitality, are lagging, said Julia Goldman, who studies cost-of-living trends in the greater Tampa Bay region.

“Unemployment is low right now, and there are lots of jobs, that's great,” she said. “But if the basic costs are increasing faster than wages – which they are – that's a huge problem.”

Nearly half, or 45 percent, of workers in Florida are seeing costs rise faster than their pay, according to a report published by United Way Suncoast. Many earn too much to qualify for financial support and not enough to cover the climbing cost of goods.

READ MORE: More Florida and Tampa Bay families are living paycheck to paycheck | WUSF Public Media 

For instance, the median wage of a retail worker in Florida has climbed only 1.9 percent since 2007 while household costs have jumped 2.5 percent nationally, according to the Consumer Price Index. In Florida, the cost of basic needs climbed 3.3 percent, according to an estimate by United for ALICE.

“The jobs that are available are not paying enough,” Goldman said. “The most common jobs are not paying enough to support people.”

In particular, the costs of housing, transportation and childcare in Florida are increasing faster than the national rate, she said.

"Inflation in Florida has long contributed to a structural economic problem: Wages for jobs essential to the running of the economy are not high enough for workers to afford the household basics they need to support their families," according to a 2023 report published by United Way Suncoast.

On Sept. 30, the minimum wage in Florida is set to increase to an hourly wage of $12 an hour on its way to $15 an hour by 2026.

However, many experts fear that the increase won't do enough to combat inflation and support working families living paycheck to paycheck.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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