As the Economy Grows, Poverty Still Remains a Major Issue

Rep. Reggie Fullwod

“Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor, “said James A. Baldwin.

Most of us know low income people – I guess that’s the politically correct name for poor folks these days. Although we know that poverty exists, often times we get so caught up in our own day to day lives that we rarely take the time to fully understand the conditions that many Americans are living in.

After the 2010 census, the Census Bureau released data that shed some light on the fact that many Americans are living in poverty. In fact, one out of every seven

Americans is living below the poverty line. In Florida alone, one out of every six is living in poverty.
The number of people living in poverty in the U.S. rose by 3 million that same year to 44 million, which is the highestlevel since the government began keeping records around 50 years ago.

I attended an event last year when John Edwards, thenexecutive director of NEFCAA, made an announcement that while the economy and unemployment rates are improving – more people are slipping into poverty. Yes, I know – it sounds strange. The Florida economy is improving, but more Floridians are considered poor.

But what is poverty? According to Wikipedia, “poverty is the lack of basic human needs, such as clean water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter, because of the inability to afford them.”

Well, because we have so many programs and services to help poor families I think only a very small percentage of Americans would fit in this general category.
However, there are millions living in “relative poverty,” which means the condition of having fewer resources or less income than others within a society or country.

Typically, when we think of poverty we often think of third world nations, but it effects millions of Americans on a daily basis. And we are not just talking about the homeless individuals you may see walking downtown.
Poverty affects families in urban and rural environments, and most don’t think of poverty when they think of the State of Florida.

Here is some information that may surprise you. According to FACA, since the recession began in 2007, Florida has had the largest increase in poverty in the nation. In fact, the poverty rate has increased in Florida for five years in a row and now stands at 16.5 percent.
With the national poverty rate at 15.1 percent, you can see that Florida is overachieving. This is the highest rate in the state in 15 years.

Florida has the fastest growing poverty rate, the highest percentage of foreclosures, and fourth lowest percentage of individuals with health insurance. Of course, poverty hits our children the hardest. Youth make up 30 percent of all those living in poverty in Florida.
African Americans have a poverty rate of 28.6 percent, more than double the rate of 11.5 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics in Florida have a poverty rate of 21.8 percent as compared to 16 percent in 2007.

And those 44 million Americans mentioned earlier lived in homes in which the income was below the poverty level, which is about $22,000 for a family of four.

So for millions of Americans, it is hard for them to have a sense that the recession is actually over. W.E.B. DuBois once said, “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”

We often hear politicians brag about Florida being a low-tax state; but in reality taxes are higher for poor people in the state because of our heavy reliance on a regressive sales tax and property taxes.

The 20 percent of Floridians with the lowest incomes pay about 13.5 percent of their incomes towards taxes. Now let’s compare that figure to the wealthiest Floridians who pay about 2 percent of their incomes towards taxes.

Poverty in this nation and state are real and cannot be ignored. Let’s not forget that just because the economy is improving doesn’t mean that less people are poor. The good news for poor people in America is the fact that we live in America and there are countless opportunities to achieve and be successful.

For me, I knew very early on in life that education was going to be the key to getting out of poverty, and that fact has not changed.

Mary McCloud Bethune once said, “The whole world opened up to me when I learned how to read.”

But perhaps Marian Wright Edelman said it best,“Education is a precondition to survival in America today.”

Signing off from NEFCAA,
Reggie Fullwood

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