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Central Florida’s poverty problem and the bad math of "jobs"

Despite employment gains, nearly half of the region's residents are living poor according to the United Way

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Breaking uneven

Amid all of the mixed messages spewing from the cracks in Florida’s poverty problem, a report from the United Way revealed last week that 3.2 million (45 percent) of Floridians are in no position to afford the cost of even living here. Sure, on one hand you have Fort Lauderdale taking Orlando’s lead and passing ordinances against feeding homeless people in public. Let’s arrest a minister! On the other hand, there’s a new collective initiative from the city of Orlando, Orange County and Florida Hospital to tackle the homeless problem philanthropically and holistically by throwing millions at housing and health care. Let’s feel good about ourselves!

But somewhere in the middle of that rhetoric, right there next to the fact that Central Florida is the lowest-paying job market in the country, according to a 2013 Orlando Sentinel report, buzzes the dull hum of those barely getting by. In Orange County alone, 47 percent make less than a “survival budget,” according to the United Way. In Osceola, where the Magic Kingdom thrives, that number rises to 50 percent. While the minimum wage might creep up from $7.93 an hour to $8.05 next year, between 2007 and 2012, living expenses in Florida have increased 13 percent, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

After a campaign season focused on “jobs” and the creation of them – a campaign season that saw so much wool being pulled over so many eyes – the United Way report is a sobering reminder of where leisure economies meet labor exploitation – and what happens when “jobs” are mistaken for sustenance. We could do better.

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