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Regional report: Living costs straining household budgets

Mark Parker



Bemetra Simmons, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, discussed the 2024 Regional Competitiveness Report's finding at the State of the Region luncheon Monday. Photos provided.

Tampa Bay’s population growth outpaced 19 similar metropolitan areas again in 2023; however, costs continue increasing, with residents now spending 57% of their income on housing and transportation expenses.

Those are two key findings from companion economic competitiveness reports released by the Tampa Bay Partnership and the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business. Nearly 500 business, community and government leaders discussed research insights and implications Monday at the annual State of the Region luncheon.

The public-private partnership, now in its seventh year, highlights the eight-county region’s successes and challenges. The dual reports compare Tampa Bay to peer and aspirational markets like Jacksonville, Austin, Atlanta and Charlotte.

The 2024 Economic Competitiveness Report found Tampa Bay improved in 36 of 67 metrics. However, it also highlighted that the “region on the rise” has a “very real affordability crisis.”

“We are, clearly, still a magnet for talent, families and business,” Bemetra Simmons, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, told the Catalyst. “But all that attractiveness comes with some challenges.”

Wages have increased by roughly $3,000. That brought the annual average income up to about $61,000.

However, that still ranks 18th among 19 comparable metro areas. It is also nearly $10,000 less than the national average.

In addition, the United Way Suncoast states that a family of four must earn $72,248 to “meet basic needs.” That jumps to $88,000 to “live comfortably.”

“We’re seeing some improvement, but not at the same pace as some of our competitive markets,” Simmons said.

A graphic showing how Tampa Bay’s wages compare to similar metropolitan areas.

She said the region’s quality of life continues to attract new residents, especially entrepreneurs. Tampa Bay placed first for net migration – including the “super encouraging” 18-to-34 demographic – and its business establishment start rate ranks fifth.

The research found median household net worth declined while the national average increased. The report states that could indicate residents “are depleting their savings or liquidating assets to combat affordability concerns.”

“I think our businesses want to be able to pay a higher and competitive wage – that hasn’t changed,” Simmons said. “You can’t just flip a switch and do that, but there’s definitely a focus there.”

Nearly every positive outcome came with a negative caveat. For example, Simmons noted that the average home sales price was around $402,000 in June 2022.

She said that decreased to about $389,000 in June 2023. However, associated housing costs, not including food, increased by 3%.

While people continue moving to Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, Simmons said other parts of Tampa Bay, like Polk and Pasco Counties, are growing at a faster pace. “So, people are going further out in the region,” she added.

Over 46% of Tampa Bay households are essentially living paycheck-to-paycheck. The region placed last for financial instability rates despite those numbers decreasing nationally.

The youth poverty rate improved slightly to 16.8%. That is still 17th among comparison metros and well below first-place Seattle at 9.3%.

While the number of impoverished residents has decreased, Simmons said more full-time workers struggle to afford bills. “What I think is happening is they have more than one full-time job trying to make those ends meet,” she added.

Nearly 500 local stakeholders attended the State of the Region luncheon, held at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus.

The report also highlights the importance of post-secondary education, as 79% of jobs paying over $60,000 annually require a college degree. It also shows that Tampa Bay students graduate with less debt than those in most peer markets.

Kindergarten readiness improved to 50.3%, high enough to place second. However, over half of local children do not meet third-grade reading requirements. Science proficiency is another concern.

Tampa Bay finished first for crime rates and 12th for cultural and recreational establishments per capita. The region finished 15th or worse for health insurance coverage, food insecurity and the number of children in foster care.

“We do have to celebrate incremental progress,” Simmons said. “A lot of these indicators are things that are not going to move significantly in one year. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

She also credited the community’s involvement in identifying issues and potential solutions. The United Way, Community Foundation Tampa Bay and over 100 local experts helped create the report, sponsored by Florida Blue. USF researchers analyzed real-time and traditional data from myriad sources.

“I think the value in all of us working together is that we can advocate for policy and changes as a collective group that can help us make improvements,” Simmons said. “Speaking with many voices and one message will help our community get better.”

To read the full report, visit the website here.


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