A source of hope and a symbol of displacement, the condo towers loom just above Arthur Ford Jr.'s childhood home in Miami Beach, a tiny two-bedroom apartment on a street freshly paved with reddish brick.
''When I step out and see those people in nice cars and nice suits, I think that maybe in five years I'll be one of them,'' said Ford, 31, a produce department employee at a gourmet food market. "One day I'll be owning my own business. I don't look at them with envy.''
Ford makes up a little-known yet sizable slice of Miami Beach -- the not-so-rich, the working class and the fixed-income seniors. The beach bums, the bartenders, the hotel employees.
Census data released earlier this year -- based on figures from 2006 to 2007 -- show this tropical sandbar city of some 90,000 has the highest income disparity in the nation. That means the richest 20 percent of Miami Beach households have 62.3 percent of income while the lowest 20 percent have a mere 2.3 percent. Each should have 20 percent in a perfectly equal society.
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