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Report: With population shifts on the way, Pinellas needs to change

The number of white residents in Pinellas County is expected to drop to 72 percent by 2020, and to 50 percent by 2050, according to a new report. “As people of color continue to grow as a share of the workforce and population,” it says, “their social and economic well-being will determine the county’s future success and prosperity.” [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times]
Published Apr. 18

Pinellas County's population is changing, with people of color projected to become the majority after 2050, according to a new report. But county and state leaders have work to do if they hope to catch up to the trend, government and nonprofit officials said Thursday.

Black and Hispanic residents lag behind their white counterparts in income, education and other quality of life measures, the report said.

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Next year, for example, 41 percent of jobs in Florida will require an associate's degree or higher, but only 28 percent of working-age black residents in Pinellas have achieved that level of education. The figure for working-age Hispanic residents 32 percent.

The report, titled "An Equity Profile of Pinellas County," is said to be the first countywide assessment of economic and quality of life measures. It defined equity as "the quality of being fair and impartial" as opposed to equality, which is the "state of being equal, or the same."

The document was developed by PolicyLink, a national research firm hired by Unite Pinellas, a group of government and nonprofit groups in the county. The goal is to use the data to highlight areas where nonprofits and civic leaders can improve lives through policy changes and education, said United Pinellas executive director Tim Dutton.

Three groups, the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, United Way Suncoast and the Juvenile Welfare Board, took a leading role in the effort.

"So much of what needs to change is in the public domain," Dutton said during an announcement at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater.

"We must change the narrative, which means change the common language," he said. "The common language is the language of blame. Policy practice and narrative change are the paths to real transformative change."

Dutton highlighted several public policies written years ago that he said were based on discrimination. The 1935 Social Security Act, for example, excluded benefits for farm and domestic workers, which were mostly African-Americans at the time, he said.

He also cited the 1938 Labor Act, saying it created the right to a minimum wage but did not include protections for tips-based workers, who were also mostly people of color.

Also, African-Americans are more likely than white Americans to be targeted for subprime mortgages and predatory lending, Dutton said.

"Today is a start," he said. "To increase fairness and justice."

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Among the factors that drive down life expectancy and reduce quality of life are higher poverty rates among black and Hispanic children, and evictions, which occur in every Pinellas neighborhood but are more prevalent in southern parts of the county, the report said.

Those disparities will loom large as the county's demographics continue to change.

In 2000, 83 percent of the county's population was white, according to the report. That number is expected to drop to 72 percent by next year and to 50 percent by 2050.

"As people of color continue to grow as a share of the workforce and population, their social and economic well-being will determine the county's future success and prosperity," the report said.

Another driver will be age. The average age of Pinellas' white residents is 52, about 20 years older than the average for African-American and Hispanic residents, the report said.

Bridging that divide will be critical for the Pinellas economy, it said. "Support from older residents for strong public schools for all children and workforce training is needed to prepare the emerging workforce for the jobs of tomorrow."

PolicyLink determined that the Pinellas economy would be $3.6 billion larger if it wasn't limited by income inequity.

Anand Subramanian, the firm's managing director, said today's political climate is much like it was after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 18 years ago.

"There's so much violence and hate around race. It's scary," he said. "People are choosing sides. It's time to push for transformative change."

He and his colleagues at PolicyLink shared examples of laws that were written or changed recently in other communities that spurred positive change.

Last year, San Francisco became the first city and county in the country to waive administrative court fees on residents when they leave the criminal justice system. California also became the first state to eliminate the use of the cash bail system for suspects awaiting trial.

Minneapolis voted to eliminate single-family zoning citywide at the end of last year, which, according to the report, fosters more "equitable development opportunities."

The city of Bend, Ore., passed a construction excise tax 13 years ago to raise $80 million in funds for hundreds of affordable housing units.

"People in Pinellas County want tangible strategies and information to bring about healthier outcomes," said Carrie Hepburn, the CEO of the Tampa Bay Healthcare Collaborative.

She said the new report was the first step in doing that.

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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