The good news is that unemployment in the Miami-Dade, Florida area has never been lower. Unfortunately, the same can also be said of Miami-Dade income levels. Ouch! How did this happen?

A new calculation shows that the median household income in Miami-Dade has actually decreased over the past five decades—to $45,900 in 2016 from $49,800 in 1970. That’s a decrease of almost $4,000!

alan berubeThat’s according to Alan Berube, senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. Berube plans to compare the recent trajectory of two major metro areas in Miami-Dade and San Diego. For the first half of the post World War II era, both cities had similar sizes, demographics and single-source economies (tourism was the case for Miami, and military for San Diego).

Berube comprised a table showing the evolution of wages in the two communities over time. The results are shocking! San Diego has increased over $15,000 in the same time frame that Miami would go down almost $4,000.

Median incomes miami

While Miami-Dade wages have shown a slight increase since the post-recession low of 2010, they have still not returned to the peak of the 1990s, let alone their level decades ago. Meanwhile, San Diego incomes have climbed significantly since 1970.

The data comes at a time when studies are showing more skilled Miamians than ever are working for themselves, meaning their incomes may be more uncertain.

So what accounted for the diverging fates of these two cities? In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Berube said, the U.S. pulled back on defense spending as the Soviet Union collapsed. That forced San Diego’s leadership to diversify its economy. As they turned away from military spending, there was an intense push to invest in research, science, and education, especially through the University of California-San Diego.

Miami never had quite the same shock to its tourism industry. And while it has been shaped by immigration booms, strategic leadership could have put the region on a path to wider prosperity far sooner.

Today, San Diego is known as a life sciences hub—something that no one predicted 30 years ago.

“It’s not like who the place is, is foreordained,” Berube said. “Rather, they’ve had sufficient investment in assets that drive tech-enabled growth. Preparing all its population for all opportunities that the economy provides—they’ve been more thoughtful and intentional about that.”

“The question for Miami and other big cities is, what’s the tech niche that could be a source of good job creation coming out of the economy’s trend toward digitization,” he said.

Berube believes Miami’s economy is now on the right track, but that it will take patience to see the investments it is making now pay off.