Chip Harp, Valdosta Today Editor:
VALDOSTA — A recent report published by Rutgers University shows that 45% of Florida residents are struggling daily to afford basic expenses.
A story posted by WCTV brought to light this startling fact. Worse, the report stated that according to the United Way of the Big Bend (Florida), even more in the Tallahassee area meet this criteria (up to 47%) than the state average.
Think about that for a moment. Almost half of us struggle each and every day just to live. Worse, almost 1 in 4 of us are considered in “poverty”.
How do you define poverty? Nationally, a family that takes in under $24,000 annually is considered in poverty. However, the report states that in Florida, a “survival budget” is considered $47,000 for a family of 4. Therefore, a great many families, though not considered “poor” or technically in “poverty”, make less than what is considered the minimum survival income.
The conclusion: Poverty rate as a definition is irrelevant. If you can’t meet your obligations, especially for basic necessities, your family must find ways to make up the difference. That’s an enormous amount of people being pushed in an effort to find additional sources of income. Those sources for most just aren’t there.
We hear over and over that our unemployment rate is at a now-manageable level (under 6%). However, if you’re fully employed, or even over-employed (working more than the basic 40 hours a week) and can’t earn enough to manage your basic budget, it skews the definition of the statistic. Yes, you’re employed (or not in search of unemployment benefits), but no, you’re not earning enough to provide for your family. Worse, you can’t work enough hours at now-lower income rates to ever provide enough. What about those under or unemployed who don’t qualify for unemployment benefits? That twists the meaning further.
Families face this life-or-death issue every day.
We’ve had wars on poverty, we have federal and state assistance and other government programs to make up the difference. Better, we have private organizations such as the United Way, Second Harvest of South Georgia, the Salvation Army, and other organizations who make it their mission to help those in need.
The only honest way to lift all boats is economic growth. Until we stop choking our economic engine with expensive and invasive programs, regulations and taxes, we’ll never have earning potential available for those who want to achieve. Further, as we become more and more efficient in how we conduct business, technology will replace jobs and responsibilities for which many have worked and trained their entire careers.
Meanwhile, each day brings stress and angst as to how ends will be met for a vast number of us.
This holiday season, look left and right and you’ll see someone in need. Maybe you’ll see them in the mirror, too. We all must work together to see improvements in 2015.