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More Tampa Bay families are living on the brink of poverty

Floridians’ financial need is growing as support programs decline, according to the United Way.
 
The United Way Suncoast serves Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto Counties.
The United Way Suncoast serves Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto Counties. [ United Way Suncoast ]
Published April 26, 2023

More than 600,000 families across Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a new report from the United Way.

That’s the equivalent of 2 in 5 households on the brink of poverty, often without access to necessities such as reliable transportation, childcare, food or stable housing.

“These families are living one crisis away from really dire circumstances,” said United Way Suncoast CEO Jessica Muroff. “The number across Florida is growing.”

Although the federal poverty level is often used as a standard measure of financial hardship, it was set in the early 1960s. Experts say relying on that measure drastically underestimates need.

A decade ago, the United Way partnered with researchers to establish a new measurement that they say more accurately captures the burden of increasing costs and low wages on working families.

The system of measurement — called the ALICE threshold — uses census data and cost of living adjustments specific to ZIP codes to identify households that don’t earn enough to cover the cost of basic needs.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. In short, it’s a measurement of the working poor.

The report published Wednesday documents the pandemic’s effect on Floridians living below the ALICE threshold.

During the first two years of the pandemic, the report found, that number grew by more than 227,000 households statewide.

Related: There’s a child care crisis in Florida. Here’s why that matters.
United Way Suncoast CEO Jessica Muroff.
United Way Suncoast CEO Jessica Muroff. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Federal and state relief programs helped families stay afloat, Muroff said. But with certain temporary programs — like the Child Tax Credit — having ended or approaching an end, experts worry need will skyrocket.

“Then you add on inflation, you add on the housing affordability crisis in our region... our families are not able to keep up,” Muroff said.

Particularly vulnerable are single people under the age of 25, Black and Hispanic households and seniors.

People over the age of 65 living under the ALICE threshold in the Suncoast region grew by nearly 15% between 2019 and 2021, according to the report. That’s the highest increase of any age range.

Florida has one of the highest percentages of households struggling to make ends meet. It ranks 44th among states for financial security.

Exacerbating need is the makeup of Florida’s service-heavy labor force. Of the top 20 occupations in Florida, 70% pay less than $20 an hour, according to the United Way.

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About 1 in 6 teachers in Florida lives below the ALICE threshold. More than 1 in 10 registered nurses do as well.

And although the state’s population continues to grow, the percentage of households living in near-poverty is growing, too.

Related: St. Petersburg program teaches parents how to help kids learn

“We’ve got to look at ways that we work together to support these families who just don’t earn enough to be able to afford the basic minimum needs of surviving,” Muroff said.

She said that means investing in lifting people out of poverty, through programs that support early education and workforce training and offer child care support.

To read the full report and to view more data, visit: unitedforalice.org/florida.