Make us your home page

United Way: 44 percent of Florida households, mostly working poor, struggle to meet basic needs

More than 4 of every 10 households in Florida - 3.3 million of the state's 7.5 million households - are struggling to make ends meet, a new report finds. [Getty Images file photo]

More than 4 of every 10 households in Florida - 3.3 million of the state's 7.5 million households - are struggling to make ends meet, a new report finds. [Getty Images file photo]

For all the talk of an economic rebound in Florida, there's a big problem that too often stays out of the state's spotlight.

More than 4 of every 10 households in Florida — 3.3 million of the state's 7.5 million households — are struggling to make ends meet. That 44 percent includes not only the 14.5 percent of households that earn less than the federal poverty level but another 29.5 percent of Florida households that are part of the working poor. These are folks ranging from fast food workers, the bulk of tourism industry employees, home health care workers and even certain teachers who find their modest paychecks still make it tough to meet basic needs.

Such are the findings of a new and in-depth analysis of the working poor by the United Ways in Florida and other states.

In the Tampa Bay market, the percentage of households failing to meet basic necessities hovered at 42 percent in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, and 41 percent in Pinellas. That means, for example, that 210,307 of the 503,154 total households in Hillsborough live in poverty or have jobs that make it hard to cover basic living requirements.

So how much do basic requirements cost?

The survival budget to meet household needs in Hillsborough, is $19,128 for a single adult and $54,084 for two adults with two young children. These numbers are similar in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties but vary across Florida's 67 counties.

Two years ago, the United Ways introduced its first ALICE report. ALICE stands for "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed" and was created to better define the large population of residents who are working, earning more than the current federal poverty level of $11,880. But these working households still have difficulty affording the necessities of housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.

Previous coverage: United Way: 45 percent of Florida households can't afford cost of living

In 2014, with Florida still recovering from a deep recession, the initial report found that 2.6 million households in Florida were designated as ALICE. There has been the barest of improvement since then.

The new report, states United Way of Florida president Theodore Granger, "highlights the fact that even with three more years of economic recovery under our belts, during which unemployment fell 50 percent, the rate of Florida's households who are poor or ALICE has barely decreased."

Each category has shrunk by only 0.5 percent.

"When we first put out the report two years ago, the numbers were shocking," says Deanna Willsey, chief marketing officer at United Way Suncoast, which serves most of the Tampa Bay area.

The report is expected to be issued every two years to help track the progress of Florida's vulnerable working poor population.

The latest ALICE report is detailed enough to show which neighborhoods across Tampa Bay and Florida have the highest concentrations of the working poor. In Hillsborough, those neighborhoods include Egypt Lake and the area around the University of South Florida best known as "Suitcase City." In Pinellas, those neighborhoods include West Lealman and South Pasadena. In Pasco, they include Crystal Springs and Trilby. And in Hernando, they include part of Brooksville and Wiscon.

Willsey, in an interview, says the 32 United Ways in Florida are focusing their resources to improve the job skills of the working poor, from engaging in workforce development programs, assisting in GED high school programs and building better resumes. If more workers can find jobs that pay better, she says, then they can rely less on working two or three jobs and spend more time caring for families.

Florida's United Ways announced the ALICE report at a noon press event in Tallahassee while pressing for help for working families during the 2017 Florida Legislature. The updated report uses data from the American Community Survey and Bureau of Labor Statistics to quantify the number of households in Florida's workforce that are not consistently and independently affording the basics in each county.

Among the 2017 findings:

• The cost of basic household expenses increased steadily in every county in Florida between 2007 and 2015.

• The greatest rise in the household expenses in Florida was driven by a 20 percent increase in housing costs since 2007.

• While wages appear to have improved, when adjusted for inflation the percent of low-wage jobs is the same as in 2007.

• Households with children are more likely to struggle, particularly those with a single parent, with 79 percent of female-headed households and 65 percent of male-headed households unable to consistently afford the basics in Florida.

• The Florida population is shifting significantly and quickly. The number of households headed by people under 25 fell by 29 percent since 2007, while households over 65 increased by 24 percent. Surprisingly, United Way said, the more vulnerable of both populations are often vying for the same housing and jobs; nearly half of those over 65 are now in the workforce.

• The "gig" economy continues to shift more work from full-time jobs with benefits to part-time, on-demand or contingent employment. This creates opportunities for ALICE to fill short-term gaps in standard employment, but also transfers many costs and risks from employers onto individuals.

Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.

Who are the working poor?

• ALICE is a United Way acronym for "Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed." ALICE only represents those who have a job and earn more than the federal poverty line, which for one person is $11,880. But due to high living costs and factors often beyond their control, ALICE households live paycheck to paycheck.

• The report sets an ALICE "survival budget" for each of Florida's 67 counties, based on what it costs to afford basic necessities in each community. For the Tampa Bay metro area, the county survival budget for a single adult is $19,128.

• Low-wage jobs dominate Florida's economy with 67 percent of all jobs in the state paying less than $20 per hour. Three-quarters of these jobs pay less than $15 per hour.

United Way: 44 percent of Florida households, mostly working poor, struggle to meet basic needs 02/22/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2017 5:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst


    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette


    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  3. Another Hollywood nursing home resident dies. It's the 9th in post-Irma tragedy.

    State Roundup

    The Broward County Medical Examiner's office is investigating another death of a resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — the ninth blamed on the failure of a cooling system that became a stifling deathtrap three days after Irma hit.

    Carlos Canal, pictured at 47 years old, came to Miami from Cuba in 1960. Above is his citizenship photo. [Courtesy of Lily Schwartz]
  4. Despite Hurricane Irma, Hillsborough remains on pace to unlock hotel tax that could pay for Rays ballpark


    TAMPA — Despite the threat of a catastrophic storm, it was business as usual at many Hillsborough County hotels in the days before Hurricane Irma bore down on the Tampa Bay region.

    The Grand Hyatt near TIA closed during Hurricane Irma, but many other Hillsborough hotels were open and saw an influx.
  5. New Graham-Cassidy health care plan stumbles under opposition from governors


    WASHINGTON — The suddenly resurgent Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act was dealt a blow on Tuesday when a bipartisan group of governors came out against a proposal gaining steam in the Senate.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined by, from left, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks to reporters as he pushes a last-ditch effort to uproot former President Barack Obama's health care law, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. To win, 50 of the 52 GOP senators must back it -- a margin they failed to reach when the chamber rejected the effort in July. [/J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press]