1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Kriseman overstates poverty reduction in south St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, stands up on a bench as he greets customers and supporters while talking about the stakes in the election during a campaign style stop at Cycle Brewing, 534 Central Ave, in St. Petersburg on June 15. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times)
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, stands up on a bench as he greets customers and supporters while talking about the stakes in the election during a campaign style stop at Cycle Brewing, 534 Central Ave, in St. Petersburg on June 15. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Jul. 3, 2017

Mayor Rick Kriseman is trying to win over voters in his re-election bid with a pitch about falling poverty in a lower income neighborhood.

Kriseman, who faces former Mayor Rick Baker, says significant strides have been made since he took office, particularly in south St. Petersburg.

"We are seeing poverty being reduced in south St. Pete at a number larger than the national average, the state average, county or in Tampa, Jacksonville," Kriseman said after signing his qualifying papers inside City Hall.

This area of town is significant to Kriseman, who helped with efforts related to the 2020 plan, a five-year plan to reduce poverty by 30 percent in a portion of south St. Petersburg.

In order for this claim to be true, the poverty rate in south St. Petersburg would have to be dropping faster than in those other areas he named.

But Kriseman's evidence for the claim is imprecise.

Instead of providing data for that area, Kriseman pinpointed the poverty rate of the African-American population in the entire city of St. Petersburg between two years.

Kriseman's staff relied on a 2013 Pinellas County report that highlighted south St. Petersburg as one of five at-risk communities, areas marked by "high concentrations of poverty and a small return to the taxbase."

According to the report, approximately 48 percent of the population in this zone live in poverty. The demographic breakdown of those who live in poverty is as follows: 63 percent are African-American, 27 percent are white, 5 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are of another race.

City staff said given that the majority of residents in that zone are African-American, addressing poverty among African-Americans is a priority for the mayor.

So to support his claim, Kriseman compared the poverty rate for the entire St. Petersburg black population (which should go without saying, does not entirely live in south St. Pete) against the rates of other big cities, the state and the country.

Even with that allowance, the numbers don't hold up.

Kriseman's team sent PolitiFact Florida two sets of data from the Census Bureau's 2014 and 2015 American Community Survey for the African-American population. (The 2016 numbers will be released in September.)

According to that data, the black poverty rate in St. Petersburg decreased by 8.5 percentage points between 2014 and 2015, from 34.9 percent to 26.4 percent.

The other areas Kriseman mentioned — Pinellas County, Jacksonville, Florida, the United States, and Tampa — showed a smaller reduction in the black poverty rate, between a drop of 4.8 percentage points to a gain of .2 point, respectively.

Most importantly, the data neglects the large margin of error in census data.

Based on our calculations, the difference in the number of African-Americans in poverty — for St. Petersburg as well as the other locations — was statistically unchanged from 2014 to 2015.

In other words, there's no way to know for sure if poverty went up or down, because the change in the poverty rate is within the margin of error.

In 2015, the margin of error for data from the Census Bureau was plus or minus 25 percent, or 4,131 people. For 2014, the margin of error was plus or minus 17 percent, or 3,459 people. Those margins are significant.

The Census Bureau data shows that about 17,000 African-Americans were in poverty in 2015. With the margin of error, the estimated range is between 12,566 and 20,828.

The range of African-Americans in poverty in 2014 is between 16,596 and 23,514.

Taken together, the estimates show that the number of African-Americans in poverty could have held steady, or even increased from 17,000 to 20,000. We just don't know with a margin of error this wide.

Joshua Wilde, an assistant professor of economics at the University of South Florida, said Kriseman was using the best data available despite its imperfections. While he couldn't say this for sure, he said there was a strong chance that poverty fell in south St. Petersburg among African-Americans between 2014-15. He calculated the p-value — a statistical indicator based on the confidence interval — to determine the chance poverty fell based on numbers provided by the Census Bureau.

"Once you peel back the layers of the onion on the numbers, it turns out the best numbers we have are just highly uncertain," he said.

Still, Melissa Radey, a Florida State University professor who specializes in poverty research and data, said it would be better to have more years when looking at trends in poverty.

"Making statements about trends is not appropriate with only two years of data," Radey said.

Kriseman stuck by his conclusion.

"To dismiss the year over year Census report about the number of people in poverty as statistically insignificant overgeneralizes the complexities of real-time poverty eradication," he said.

For a statement that contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give the reader a different impression, we rate this claim Mostly False.

Times staff writer Nathaniel Lash and senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Read more rulings at


  1. Commissioner Pat Kemp so far is unopposed for re-election to her countywide seat in 2020. Commissioner Sandra Murman, term-limited in her district seat, is considering running against her. [Courtesy of Pat Kemp]
    The move appears to be in part a reaction to what some view as anti-growth leanings by the new Democratic majority on the Hillsborough County Commission.
  2. Florida Senator Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, was the sponsor of a law that was to go into effect Friday that would have created new requirements for abortion doctors that could have limited the number of clinics. But the U.S. Supreme Court threw out similar Texas restrictions, raising doubt about the fate of Florida's new law. [Scott Keeler | Times]
    The bill would add a requirement that minors must also obtain a parent or guardian’s consent for an abortion, not just notify them.
  3. In this March 28, 2017, photo, Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla.,  leaves a closed-door strategy session at the Capitol in Washington.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) [J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP]
    He is the second GOP congressman from Florida to announce he’s not running.
  4. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times  Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks to the press on the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton during a town hall meeting at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church on Sunday July 29, 2018. McGlockton was shot and killed two weeks ago in what authorities have deemed a "stand your ground" shooting.
    Forward Florida spent $240,000 on legal expenses last month to respond to a federal grand jury subpoena.
  5. A police truck patrols Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa this summer.
    The Infrastructure and Security Committee backed a proposal (SPB 7016) that would create the Statewide Office of Resiliency within the executive branch.
  6. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. [Tampa Bay Times]
    In 2018, Florida legislators approved a law making threats of school violence a second-degree felony.
  7. Florida's Baker Act was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, a 65-year-old grandmother and a freshman Florida legislator from Miami-Dade County, seen here in a 1965 photo. [Associated Press]
    The law was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, a legislator from Miami-Dade County who pushed for the rights of people with mental illness.
  8. Sarah Henderson with her son, Braden, who was committed under the Baker Act after a joking remark at school. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A cop car comes. A child is handcuffed and taken to a mental health facility. The scene is all too frequent at public schools across the state.
  9. Three Armwood High School students testify before the Senate Education Committee on Dec. 9, 2019. Left to right are seniors Maria Medina, Haley Manigold and Madison Harvey. [Emily L. Mahoney | Times]
    “The people who are cynics about politics are also the ones who complain the most,” said one student, who said democracy requires participation.
  10. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.
    The idea is part of Florida leaders’ pitch to address low teacher pay, though there is still disagreement over how to do so.