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Track quality of life numbers on the Florida Scorecard

Florida home prices are up, unemployment is down and consumers are very confident.

But did you know that only 57 percent of the state's third-graders read at grade level? Or that more than 75,000 Florida children are homeless? Or that Florida ranks dead last in volunteerism?

Those are among the dozens of metrics that show how well — or not so well — Florida does at providing a high quality of life for its 21.5 million people. You can find them all on Florida Scorecard, a free online service of the Florida Chamber Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's CEO, Mark Wilson, "wanted something for everybody in the state of Florida to be able to track our progress and see how we're doing,'' says Jerry D. Parrish, the foundation's chief economist and research director.

Parrish and his colleagues update the scorecard almost as fast as new figures come in. The tiles, or categories, are color-coded — green means Florida is improving in that category, red means it's declining. (You can click on some tiles to get stats for individual counties.) The scorecard also shows how things stand today relative to the 39 goals for the future set out in the chamber's Florida 2030 Project. While 22.3 percent of Florida kids now live in poverty, the goal is to reduce that to 10 percent by 2030.

There are some nifty facts, too. Who knew that people moving to Pinellas County from the Chicago area have added nearly $293 million to the county's wealth since 1992?

The Tampa Bay Times recently spoke with Parrish, 58, a North Carolina native who joined the foundation in 2014 after serving as the chief economist of Florida TaxWatch.

Q. This scorecard is handy — it's sort of one-stop shopping for all those statistics you can never put your hands on when you need them. But why isn't there a link from the chamber's home page?

A. We don't brand with the Florida chamber because maybe people don't like (the chamber) for some reason. The scorecard is its own separate entity, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we want people to use it. We promote it a lot — Mark Wilson and I speak all over the state — so we have thousands of regular users and it's growing as more people get exposed to it.

Q. What are some indicators that you consider particularly important?

A. A lot of them are indicators for the future. We had a slight decrease last year in third-grade reading scores. That's when kids typically go from learning to read to reading to learn, so that's a really good indicator of future high school graduation rates and other things that are important to Florida's economy. Our goal is having 100 percent of third-graders reading at grade level by 2030.

Q. Do you ever add categories?

A. We just created an index not long ago that talks about homeowner insurance affordability — it's under "business climate and competitiveness'' — that ranks Florida counties 1 to 67 on how affordable they are relative to income. One of the things that drives up our insurance rates is assignment of benefits (when people sign over their insurance rights to a third party like a contractor, repair firm or attorney). That's been a very popular topic up here in Tallahassee and we want people to know where their county ranks in terms of affordability.

Q. Any other another nifty features?

A. One of the cool things that a lot of people have commented on is our live population counter on the front page. It will change as you look at it — 900 net new people a day are moving to the state. On every single county there's a little blue button called FutureCast. If you click on that, it will give the current population, the estimate of your population in 2030 and the number of net new jobs your county needs to create by 2020 and 2030. That's what we like county commissions and county economic development agencies and chambers to key on. Let's track our progress on that.

Q. The Florida Scorecard shows a 20.8 percent chance of a recession in the next nine months. Should we be worried about that figure?

A. It started out in January of 2018 at 9 percent, so it's more than double. However, that is still not a big probability but this is something that every individual and business can check and see the trend. I feel fairly confident that we can forecast the next recession for the state of Florida. That's what this model is for.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.