MONROE COUNTY -- Florida Keys residents made more money in 2011 than they had in three years, data released last week by the federal government's Bureau of Economic Analysis shows. But local incomes last year were still 7 percent less than they were in 2008, when the Great Recession began.
The average Monroe County resident made $58,941 in 2011, up 4.5 percent from 2010's average of $56,415.
Keys incomes reached a record high of $63,130 in 2008, before dropping more than 13 percent to $54,773 in 2009.
Income figures include salaries and wages, as well as investment income and government assistance.
At close to $59,000 on average, Keys incomes lag behind only Naples' Collier among Florida's 67 counties. But the story is different when it comes to salaries and wages. Monroe's average 2011 wage per job was $41,093, only 14th best in the state, and less than Florida's overall average of $43,660.
The discrepancy likely reflects the significant population of retirees here, said Sean Snaith, an economist who is the director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.
"People who are working in the Keys are not highly paid relative to the state," he said. "But I'm sure a lot of the residents are wealthy retirees who generate a lot of income from investment revenue."
The income-to-wage discrepancy also could reflect the many Keys workers who take more than one job.
"In high cost-of-living areas, I don't think it is unusual for people to have a multiple job way-of-life in order to just get by," Snaith said.
The especially large significance of investment income in the Keys can also be seen by the 13 percent income drop between 2008 and 2009. By comparison, the overall drop in Florida over those two years was 8 percent.
Wages followed a slightly different pattern than total income here in the Keys. The average Monroe County salary reached $39,780 in 2007, then declined to $39,125 in 2008 as the real estate collapse took hold. Wages have gone up gradually since.
Nationwide, the average job paid $48,301 last year. Average income per capita was $41,560, 1.5 percent above the 2008 level.
Snaith said the Bureau of Economic Analysis data should be seen as something of a look in the rearview mirror.
"Florida's recovery started in 2010, so we are just seeing confirmation that it is taking place, and also the strength of that recovery, which has not been very remarkable at all," he said.