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For many of color, a very different life in Tampa Bay | Editorial

Big inequities in housing, income, education and engagement

They are paid less than whites, less likely to own a home and more likely to live in poverty. Their children struggle in under-performing schools, and are less likely to be engaged in their communities. The prospects were already tough for the next generation — even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. For many people of color throughout Tampa Bay, these inequities pose a crushing hurdle to a better life and a stabler, more productive region.

A new report released by the Tampa Bay Partnership exposes a glaring racial divide across the region. The inequities in income, housing, education and other areas show the challenge of expanding opportunities across the metropolitan area. While Tampa Bay is not an outlier in many aspects compared to peer cities across the country, the numbers provide a snapshot of the region’s distinct weaknesses. And while these inequities didn’t compound overnight, they reflect deep-seated, interrelated problems that must be addressed in equally holistic fashion. Coming as the Black Lives Matter movement has brought inequity to the forefront, the report serves as a baseline for action by government and the private sector alike.

The findings by the business development and civic advocacy group are a reminder that not all have shared in the region’s recent economic successes. Black workers in the region are 1½ times more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. Median wages for Black workers are 21 percent less than for whites. Black residents are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty, while Black children are almost three times as likely as white children to live in poverty. And across the region, there’s a 32.5 percent gap between white (73.3 percent) and Black (40.8 percent) home ownership rates.

Stable employment, rising incomes and home ownership are tools for building wealth that families can pass onto future generations. They also are key to strengthening communities and the institutions that serve them, from small businesses to nonprofits and schools. Yet Black people face equity gaps across the board. Black students in the area’s public schools perform well below their white peers, with at least a 31 percent achievement gap in reading, math and science in the elementary and middle school grades. That is an especially crucial time to keep students from falling behind. There’s a nearly 10-point gap between white and Black graduation rates. And only 20 percent of Black residents in the region have a bachelor’s degree or higher, a share that’s 10 percentage points lower than white residents.

Rounding out the inequities, Black residents are also less connected to schools, the workforce and their communities. At 11.4 percent, the share of young, non-Hispanic whites in Tampa Bay who are neither enrolled in school nor working is the highest among the 20 peer regions, worse than Baltimore, Portland and Houston. The “disconnection” rate for area Black residents alone is 6 percentage points higher. That’s a recipe for bad outcomes, from chronic unemployment and poverty to substance abuse and imprisonment. And there’s nearly a 14 percentage point gap between the share of white and Black households with a computer and broadband internet connection. That digital divide creates a dead end for many, as schools, commerce, health care, banking and other institutions increasingly move online.

As troubling as these figures are, this was the picture before the pandemic. Preliminary findings indicate that many of the disparities are likely to worsen. Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans called the report “a reality check” that amid the protests for racial justice call for a thoughtful, regional strategy. To that end, the Partnership, which collaborated with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the United Way Suncoast, plans to present the findings in a virtual public forum Sept. 3 as a step toward finding solutions.

The Partnership deserves credit for providing a rich trove of information, which should help further this conversation. While some activists have campaigned to “defund the police,” this report shows there are far more relevant — and practical — steps to take in addressing systemic racial inequality. Area prosecutors are making greater use of civil citations to spare young people especially a criminal record. Local governments have helped low-income homebuyers with down payment assistance. The University of South Florida recently announced new outreach programs to expand college opportunities for poor and minority students.

These are all important steps to improving the outlook for thousands of our neighbors, and for creating a more just and enriching environment in a region we call home. There still is much work to be done. But improving the numbers starts with acknowledging the gaps.

The gap in key indicators between white and Black residents in Tampa Bay — and why they matter.

Poverty

Children growing up in poverty start further behind, have fewer resources and lose valuable time in maximizing opportunities.

  • Percentage of children in Tampa Bay living in poverty:

White: 13 percent

Black: 36 percent

Education

Reading, math and other basics are essential in the early years to develop comprehension, critical thinking and other life and learning skills.

  • Student passing rates on third-grade reading and third and eighth-grade math tests:

White: 68, 65 percent

Black: 35, 33 percent

Employment

People aged 16 to 24 who are adrift between high school and college or careers may face long-term unemployment, addiction pressures or incarceration.

  • Percentage of youth age 16 to 24 who are not working or enrolled in school:

White: 11 percent

Black: 17 percent

College degrees

A college degree could be a pathway to higher wages, stabler employment, health insurance, retirement security and other contributors to financial security.

  • Percentage of those 25 or older with a Bachelor’s degree:

White: 30 percent

Black: 20 percent

Income

Low wages set a floor for years or decades of income inequality, while limiting opportunities and exposing households to financial shock.

  • Median hourly wages for full-time workers:

White: $20.90/hour

Black: $16.42/hour

Internet access

Online access is increasingly key to continuing education, seeking a job, entrepreneurship, professional development and obtaining financial, health care and consumer services.

  • Share of households with computer and broadband internet access:

White: 85 percent

Black: 71 percent

Health coverage

Those without health insurance often lack a continuum of care, face preventable illnesses and risk a catastrophic event that could be deadly or financially ruinous.

  • Percentage covered by health insurance:

White: 85 percent

Black: 80 percent

Home ownership

Home equity builds wealth, stabler housing leads to stabler school environments and strong neighborhoods foster greater social and civic participation.

  • Share of housing units that are owner-occupied:

White: 73 percent

Black: 41 percent

Sources: Tampa Bay Partnership 2020 Regional Equity Report; U.S. Census Bureau

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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