Jobless, homeless stats don't tell whole story

As silver linings go, don't count on this one to brighten your mood for too long. But I'll give it a shot, lest I be accused of dwelling on the negative.

Hernando County's employment rate, reported earlier this month to be the second highest in Florida at 6.6 percent, has been worse. It was almost 10 percent when the elder George Bush was president during the 1991 recession. (Incidentally, we were at war with Iraq then, too.)

There you have it, all the good news on the employment front way up high in this story.

Now, join me on the trip back down to earth.

The number of people in Hernando County who want a job but don't have one, certainly is higher than the rate reflected in the most recent unemployment statistics. That's because of the way the jobless are counted, or, more specifically, not counted.

The unemployment tally is based on the number of people who apply for unemployment compensation benefits. It does not include people who are unemployed but too proud or uninformed to apply for government assistance, and it does not include those whose unemployment benefit has expired, but still may need a job. "Sometimes numbers aren't numbers,'' said Mike McHugh, director of the county Office of Business Development.

There is no easy way to count those people, but it is safe to presume that if it could be done, the actual unemployment rate would be significantly higher.

And the unemployed are not the only group of in-need people who are being undercounted. The same goes for the people who have no place to call home.

Barbara Wheeler, who is director of the Mid-Florida Homeless Coalition, is still compiling the most recent statistics on the number of homeless in the four-county region her organization serves (Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Lake). Last year, Wheeler said, there was an average of about 250 homeless people in Hernando County. That is a "very conservative" estimate, Wheeler said.

Even so, that figure includes only the homeless who can be identified, such as those who are housed in emergency shelters or who have otherwise come forward for help.

For the most part, it does not take into account the "invisible" homeless who are sleeping in tents, cars, or on cots or couches in the houses of their benevolent relatives or friends. Most in that group, Wheeler said, are women and children.

Meanwhile, even people who are employed are having trouble paying their mortgages, resulting in a record number of foreclosures in Hernando County — almost 2,000 last year, which is 2½ times more than 2006 — and increasing the number of invisible homeless. Property values that were artificially high in recent years, resulting in higher taxes, are partially to blame. But the indefensible increase in homeowners insurance is a more culpable culprit.

Throw in obscene prices for gasoline and it is no wonder that economic experts are finally saying what struggling people have been living: We're in a recession, and the politicians' relatively infinitesimal "stimulus" rebates (a.k.a. election-year bribes) won't change that.

To recap: The official number of unemployed and homeless in Hernando County is high. The unofficial number is even higher.

So, for those who are straining to see the silver lining and tempted to dismiss this observation with a nonchalant "Oh, things are not as bad as they seem," I agree. Things truly are not as bad as they seem.

They are worse. And for those who are most vulnerable, becoming much worse.

Jeff Webb can be reached at webb@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6123.

Jobless, homeless stats don't tell whole story 02/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 8:57am]

    

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