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Turn Of Fortune For Historically-Battered Southwest Florida

half-finished-poolSouthwest Florida is being hit, and it is being hit badly. Poverty rates are rising at a very alarming rate, faster than any other place in the country. This trend, influenced by the incredible plunges in household income of the Great Recession is noticed largely in those under 18.

Less than five years ago, the County of Sarasota was a lot better off. Its poverty rate was a lot lower than other places in Florida. However, from 2007 to 2010, the tune of the music changed suddenly, and it changed for the worse. In a flash, the poverty rate had spiked from about 8% to over 13%. The full report of this transformation was shown by a Herald-Tribune publication released on Tuesday.

The alarming nature of the picture becomes more glaring when we realize that that is actually a jump by 5% at a period when the national rate was increased by just 2%. In the United States, a family of four is considered to be in poverty if it makes below $22,113 on an annual basis.

For Sarasota County that is supposed to be in the top 10% of counties that have the lowest rates of poverty, this county cannot even be accounted for in the top 30%. It is now categorized as being in the 31st percentile. This is reflected in the data that has been released for all the 3,124 counties in the country. A similar pattern was seen with Manatee County, where an approximate plunge rate was noticed. However, there were differences in the exact figures and the percentiles. In the year 2007, Manatee was placed among the 25% of counties that had the lowest rates of poverty. As of last year, Manatee had dropped to the 41st percentile, with its rate climbing from 10.6% to 14.5%. Another factor that has been said to influence poverty in Southwest Florida is the unemployment rate (higher than the average) and its vast slump in wages.

Sarasota’s poverty rate has risen to 20%, yet it is home to households earning the highest average income of $150,000 based on Herald Tribune’s analysis report. The contrasts in earnings even worsened the situation, showing great disparity.

Sarasota seems to be divided into 2 communities. One community is composed of well-off retirees and the other enclave belongs to Sarasotans who are earning wages from daily work. Most of the estimated 1,638 homes of high-income households belong to retirees. However, it seems that the economy has solely relied on retirees, tourism, and construction that are being supported by earnings from low paying jobs. In the past, earnings from construction jobs have helped boost the economy but wages have drastically dropped due to steep competition. In contrast to the high-income households, 9.9% of households are earning less than $10,000 a year.

Other cities like North Port, Port Charlotte, Venice, and Bradenton are faring well compared to Sarasota. These cities have higher median household income. Yet, none of these cities experience high percentage of households earning less than $10,000 in a year.

Such conditions are quite alarming. Some even say such disparity can even cause dissonance within the community.

How Mothers in Immokalee, FL Are Fighting Poverty

It may seem hard to believe that this close to one of the wealthiest cities in Southwest Florida, that people are suffering in severe poverty. Yet, in Immokalee, Florida that is precisely what is happening. While most people are unaware of the extent of Southwest FL poverty, the NCC Poverty Initiative has fortunately stepped in and is doing what it can to help out by sharing a series of uplifting stories and prayers for mothers and their children who are suffering each day from the effects of being poor.

Immokalee, FL is a small town just east of Naples, FL. It’s hard to believe that, with Naples having some of the wealthiest real estate communities such as Lely Resort, Pelican Bay, and – right down the road from Immokalee – Heritage Bay.

With Mother’s Day on the horizon, one of the farmworker leaders of CIW (the Coalition of Immokalee Workers) has become a voice for better wages and better working conditions on the many farms where she and her fellow employees go to work every day.

Her name is Lupe, and though originally from Guatemala, she has lived in Immokalee for over 10 years, working the fields and harvesting vegetables – many times doing it under some of the worst conditions imaginable. Everyone who lives (or has stayed any length of time) in Southwest Florida can imagine doing a job like this during the summer months, when temperatures soar and the blistering sun is at it’s peak.

Yet today we are seeing a major shift in the agricultural industry, and this can be attributed to the blood, sweat and tears that have been put in by mothers and other workers like Lupe. After 20 years of hard work to make it happen, we now have programs such as the Fair Food Program – which was recently hailed by the White House as being one of the most innovative and successful programs in the modern day fight against slavery.

Now Lupe spends her days (when she’s not bust taking care of her family) working full time to educate other workers on the rights that they have recently been given – one of the biggest among these being their right to work without being subjected to sexual harrassment.

While there is still a long way to go in the fight against Southwest FL poverty, stories such as Lupe’s can give us all hope for the future.

What We Do

Ending Poverty

NY Faith & Justice focuses on three key strategic issues:

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In addition, we support partnering organizations in their press for justice in areas such as: education reform, housing and homelessness, health reform, economic reform, and modern day slavery. All of our advocacy and organizing efforts are interfaith in nature.