By Tim Elfrink

On a surface level, Miami is a prosperous place — new condo towers are forever rising in Edgewater and South Beach, luxury cars are lined up at valet stations, and foreign cash seems drawn to South Florida development like an unscrupulous retiree to a Ponzi scheme.

But beneath that sheen lies one of America’s least equal distributions of wealth. And that inequality includes a sizable and worrying gender gap, with more than one in every five women in Miami-Dade County living below the poverty line.

That’s according to a new report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which also found troubling trends statewide. The study, which uses data from the U.S. Census and local agencies, shows that the number of women in Florida living in poverty has grown since 2004, from 12.6 to 15.4 percent.

Miami has one of the higher rates of female poverty in the state: 20.5 percent. (That’s compared to 16.6 percent of men in Miami-Dade living in poverty.)

That’s not the worst rate in Florida — that distinction belongs to rural areas such as Hardee County, where an eye-popping 29 percent of women live below the line — but it is a troubling figure, especially considering that other statistics suggest women are making economic strides in the Magic City.

A full 40 percent of businesses in Miami are owned by women, for example, one of the highest rates in the Sunshine State.

“Florida is among the states with the largest number of women-owned businesses (807,817) and the greatest growth in women-owned businesses,” the authors note in the report, titled “The Status of Women in Florida by County: Poverty & Opportunity.” “The growth rate for women-owned businesses in the state was 84.7 percent, the fourth highest in the country.”

The report also shows that 26.3 percent of women in Miami held at least a bachelor’s degree, again one of the higher rates in Florida.

Yet those stats aren’t translating to enough women earning a living wage, especially in a county where rising rents and home prices make cost of living increasingly difficult.

That’s a statewide problem. “In Florida, 15.4 percent of women aged 18 and older live in poverty, placing the state among the bottom third in the country,” the report notes.

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