Hillsborough equity study: Better transit, more job training, county focus needed

Report says minorities lag in wages, health care, affordable housing and other quality of life benchmarks
LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
Bus riders get off a Hillsborough Area Transit Authority bus at the University Area Transit Center in 2019. A new equity profile of Hillsborough County recommended a greater investment in public transit.
LUIS SANTANA | Times Bus riders get off a Hillsborough Area Transit Authority bus at the University Area Transit Center in 2019. A new equity profile of Hillsborough County recommended a greater investment in public transit. [ LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times (2019) ]
Published April 6, 2022|Updated April 6, 2022

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners should invest more heavily in public transportation, create an office of equity and access within county government and establish apprenticeship programs in emergent and green technologies, according to a just-released equity profile.

Those and other recommendations, presented to commissioners Wednesday, are included in a 73-page report from MGT Consulting Group. The county commissioned the study, first suggested by Commissioner Kimberly Overman, amid the social justice movement following the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Related: Commissioner seeks equity study of Hillsborough County

The study quantified that Black or Hispanic residents in Hillsborough County lag behind white counterparts in wages, health care, affordable housing, transportation options and digital access, but are defendants in a disproportionately higher number of criminal justice cases.

“The important thing is to do more than pontificate or political chatter, but to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and this data shows the extent of the problem and ways to address it in meaningful ways,” Commissioner Mariella Smith said before the meeting.

“It (study) is not going to sit on a shelf, I will tell you that,” agreed Overman, now the commission chairperson.

Hillsborough County’s population is just less than 1.46 million people, according to the 2020 Census. Of that, 52 percent percent are white, 29 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 16 percent are black and 5 percent are Asian. Seventeen percent are mixed race and less than 1 percent are Indigenous.

The differences begin in the wallet. In Hillsborough, whites are the least employed demographic, proportionally working at a rate of 53.4 percent. Black residents in Hillsborough are employed at a rate of 63.1 percent, slightly above the national average for Black people. Overall, 56 percent of the county’s population is employed compared to 63.3 percent nationally.

More workers hasn’t translated to more dollars. Black people typically only earn 11 percent of the wages in the county even though they comprise 16 percent of the population.

And even though Black people in Hillsborough are employed at a rate above the U.S. average, they are nearly twice as likely as whites to live under the federal poverty line. In Hillsborough, 20 percent of black families and 11 percent of whites fall under the federal poverty level.

Gender also plays a role in wage disparity. Men on average earn 61 percent of available wages in the county, an annual wage deficiency of more than $10,000 per person. In Hillsborough, on average, women make 60 percent of what male counterparts earn, well below the 2020 U.S. average of 84 percent for all workers.

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The study didn’t put a dollar amount on the wage inequities, but prior examinations have. A December 2020 study by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council for the Tampa Bay Partnership said eliminating racial and ethnic discrimination would add 20 percent, or $50 billion, to the region’s $248 billion economy and create nearly 375,000 jobs due to increased consumption. Specific to Hillsborough, that study said economic equity would bring 206,000 new jobs and help add $28.2 billion in personal income to county residents, a 35 percent increase.

Jobs and economic opportunities were at the heart of the recommendation for expanding apprenticeship programs into green technology. It would build on a program, championed by Commissioner Gwen Myers and approved by the board in 2021, for workforce training and placement in targeted industries.

Related: Hillsborough commission says racism is public health crisis

Following input from community stakeholder meetings, the study suggested adding new transit lines to reduce commuter travel times to and from Tampa; redesigning existing bus routes to improve efficiency; and considering building a large-scale mass transit system like light rail.

The consultants recommended an office of equity and access within county government responsible for implementing the county’s equity plans, including devising a community benefits policy that would require such things as living wages, local hiring and affordable housing provisions on future government or private development projects.

Wednesday, approximately a dozen speakers lauded the commission for the equity profile, and several put a specific focus on dedicating resources to fixing health care inequities.

“Without the necessary funding, that 73-page document becomes yet another dream diverted,” said Natasha Pierre.

The report said slightly less than 85 percent of white residents have health insurance compared to 80 percent for blacks and 70.3 percent for Hispanics. All three groups trail the overall national average of 86.8 percent.

Health outcomes for black “individuals are dramatically worse than other demographic groups. Worse health outcomes, with or without insurance, increase the cost of living dramatically by introducing treatment costs which can be a financial strain on many individuals and families alike,” the study said.