A disturbing report by the United Way last week painfully details how 2 million Floridians live hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck.
This in a state where newly re-elected Gov. Rick Scott can boast of adding some 624,000 jobs that have helped improve the lives of many Floridians. Job creation has been Scott’s mantra for the last four years, and likely will be for the next four. It’s the right commitment.
“I want this to be the state were any family can live the dream. Get a great job and your children can get a great education,” Gov. Scott said during his Oct. 21 debate with challenger Charlie Crist.
At the polls, voters rewarded Scott for his job creation, which has helped Florida’s economy sputter to back life and lowered the state’s unemployment rate.
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But the United Way report begs an interesting question? What types of jobs are being created and who’s getting them? Are they higher-paying blue-collar or middle-class professional jobs out of reach for the less educated, for minorities whose wages drag behind?
Those jobs clearly are welcome, but there’s still a disconnect between the jobs created and those who can’t fill them.
A new technology company relocating to Orlando likely has employment for professionals, but not for a less educated single mother or a laborer who support their families.
Dubbed the ALICE report, the study closely tracks the working poor. Statewide, about 2.1 million households fall into the category, the report found.
In Miami-Dade County, the rate is even higher: 21 percent of households live below the federal poverty level and an additional 29 percent can’t afford a “survival budget.” They are one paycheck away from financial disaster.
In Broward and Monroe counties, life is just slightly better, with 47 percent and 48 percent respectively living below the poverty level or scrambling to cover basic needs, according to the report.
Government can’t be the answer to all challenges, especially as they shrink. However, there is a role for it to play in order to help those who really want a hand up. Miami-Dade, for instance, has a living-wage ordinance, which, unfortunately, state lawmakers have tried to strangle. And, as the economy picks up, counties can do a better job connecting the underemployed with better-paying jobs, such as those in construction. And the better their pay, the more they can contribute as taxpayers, not takers.
And proving its huge remove from the working poor, Congress is taking aim at the child and earned-income tax credits, both of which have put money in the wallets of those who most need it. Sad, too, is that the cry for a minimum-wage increase to $10.10-an-hour and Medicaid expansion will continue to fall on deaf ears in Florida’s Republican-led Legislature, which already has already rejected such measures.
Where were all these poverty-level voters on Nov. 4?
Meanwhile, we all should look for ways to help the disadvantaged among Florida’s population. The Miami Herald is launching its annual Wish Book campaign, helping struggling local families secure needed items: a wheel-chair for a sick child, a bed or a computer.
Some observers, like Philip K. Robins, a University of Miami economist, say that measuring poverty can be relative and question the United Way report’s findings. True, the cost of housing, for example, is not the same from Jacksonville to Key West. Still, the report’s findings are disturbing and should be a call to action.