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Robert Trigaux

Florida's low wages hammer working families



Wake up and good morning. While we've been watching federal bailout plans toss out numbers like "$700-billion" and the stock market swings zap away trillions in paper wealth, a new report reminds us of another threat to the country: More than one in four working families — a total of 42-million adults and children — are low-income, earning too little to meet their basic needs. “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short” is a followup to the 2004 report “Working Hard, Falling Short” that found that an additional 350,000 working families were low-income in 2006 compared to 2002.

The report's author, Brandon G. Roberts, attributed the increase to the growth in low-paying jobs, from health-care aides to cashiers, that form an increasing share of the nation's service-based economy. Well, guess what folks? Those are exactly the kinds of jobs that dominate the job landscape in the Sunshine State. Among the top 10 jobs (by sheer number) in Florida, only the RN (registered nurse) can boast hourly wages well beyond the typical $8.50-to-$15 hourly range of waiters, retail clerks and administrative assistants here.

Here's the report. Look for yourself. Florida, which has more than a half-million low-income working families, isn't looking too good when compared to other states. Check out these Florida rankings:

  • Low-income working families with no health insurance: 46 percent. State rank: 46th (50 is worst). This is pitiful.
  • Low-income working families with housing costs greater than one-third income: 70 percent. State rank: 44th. Maybe the ongoing plummet in Florida housing prices will eventually help this figure come down.
  • Low-income working families with parent with no high school degree: 29 percent. State rank: 34th. Think it's hard to find a decent job now? Try looking with no degree.
  • Percent of jobs in occupations paying below poverty in 2006: 25 percent. State rank: 30th. Hasn't this always been the nasty secret of Florida? Lots of sunshine and cheap-paying jobs.

Of note: “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short” was produced by the Working Poor Families Project, a national initiative supported by the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Joyce, and C.S. Mott Foundations to examine the conditions of America’s working families. C.S. Mott's philanthropy stems from the fortune of Charles Stewart Mott, a Michigan industrialist, who came to the Florida town of Clewiston and bought the bankrupt Southern Sugar Co. in 1931. From that deal came the rise of U.S. Sugar, the largest sugar company in the country, that this year agreed to sell its land to the state of Florida. Read more about the rise of the Flint, Mich., C.S. Mott Foundation in this St. Petersburg Times story. 

Here's reason to cheer. The average retail price for gasoline fell 33.3 cents over the last week to $3.15 a gallon. It's the biggest weekly price decline ever recorded by the government, the Energy Department said this week. So how are Tampa Bay gas prices faring? We've seen pockets of sub-$3-a-gallon deals but overall the average price of a gallon of regular here is $3.176, according to AAA's tracking. Here's what's dazzling. That price is down more than 83 cents from our peak price of $4.009 recorded on July 17 of this year. Today's average is still more than 43 cents higher than the average $2.742 we paid one year ago. Commuters, you know what I'm talking about. This is terrific news to the wallet. May the trend be with you.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist


[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:22am]


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