Tampa is in a poverty crisis

by Emma Friedman

Twenty percent of people in Tampa are living under the poverty line, according to the United States Census Bureau. Currently, 357 thousand people are living in Tampa, and 71 thousand of those people are living in poverty causing 1 in 5 people in Tampa to be in poverty.

The national average for poverty is 11.8%, according to the U.S Census poverty report from 2018, making 2018 the fourth consecutive annual decline in poverty nationally. Tampa’s poverty rate is 8.2% higher than the national average and has raised in the past two years. 

The largest demographic living in poverty are women between the ages of 25-34, according to Data USA

Douglas Engelman, adjunct professor of Sociology at The University of Tampa and doctoral candidate, believes the reason women make up the largest demographic in poverty is due to the feminization of poverty. 

“Women who are subjected to male treatments by males,” said Engelman. “Women have a lack of  opportunities due to lack of training and lack of wages.” 

Engelman believes the key to solving the poverty problem in Tampa depends on government intervention. He believes if the government puts more money into education it will open up opportunities to people in poverty. 

“It all boils down to education, education leads to the opportunity to employment and wealth and a better standard of living,” said Engelman. “We have to make a decision to alter the tax codes to dictate how much money goes into the education system. It all starts with education.” 

With such a high amount of the population living in poverty compared to other small cities, to citizens around Tampa, it seems little is being done by the city officials to change it. 

The United Way of Florida Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) Report for 2018 disclosed the difficulties Tampa residents face when trying to support a family living in poverty. The report included a Household Survival Budget created in 2016. The budget included all necessities a family of four (two adults, one infant, and one preschooler) would need. The budget uses the bare minimum cost for each category.

A family of four living under the poverty line would make $24,300 or less a year, according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Sources poverty guidelines from 2016 when the budget was created. The bare minimum budget including housing, food, childcare, transportation, taxes, and other necessities totaled to be $55,164 a year. 

The ALICE report showed a family of four living on a budget with no savings would need $30,864 more a year to be able to live a bare-minimum lifestyle while supporting their family. 

There is little public information on plans the city has in process to help the population in poverty and plans to lower the poverty rate. Tampa’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year was released on Thursday, Aug. 1 in a document called Transforming Tampa’s Tomorrow. In the budget, there was more information about beautifying Tampa rather than helping those living in poverty within the city.

Out of the 259-page budget breakdown, the word ‘poverty’ appears once on page 81 under a description for a federal grant Tampa receives to provide affordable housing. Within the budget breakdown descriptions, there is no written plan to help the impoverished people of Tampa. 

The Hillsborough County Trends Report: Concentration of Poverty 1970-2016, concluded since 1970 the poverty rate remained similar with little fluctuation, yet the area in which poverty was prominent expanded.  The downtown Tampa area had the most concentrated population of people living in poverty from 1970-1990, despite fluctuating poverty rates.

“Neighborhoods of poverty began to shift from one urban and employment location to another location,” according to the Trends Report. “Or, the number of persons in poverty increased so drastically that they occupied two urban centers. Residents of downtown Tampa exchanged addresses for new ones in the University area. The change in location from one area to another can best be explained by three inter-related dynamics: gentrification, residential demolitions, and geographic relocation.”

The Saint Petersburg Community Redevelopment Agency has focused on the areas with the most concentrated poverty and uses a tax increment to take a portion of property tax and put it back into impoverished areas for redevelopment and antipoverty programs. 

“Imagine if we shifted our mindset from managing poverty to eliminating it,” Darden Rice, Saint Petersburg City Council member said. “Poverty costs our county $2.5 billion a year, according to a Pinellas study. The bulk of that is the emergency room and in-patient costs for Medicaid and treating the uninsured. But there are also millions of dollars in lost wages that went unearned by those who never completed high school, got arrested or became homeless.” 

If the city of Tampa imposed a similar program and invested in education systems, the poverty rate could potentially drop from 20%. 

Some Tampa residents have decided to take on the poverty problem themselves. 

Joining Together Eliminating Poverty (JTEP) is an organization in Tampa that works based on charity to provide the people in Tampa who are in poverty with the necessities every family needs.  Their mission is to create positive relationships with the community as well as raise awareness and help end poverty in Tampa. 

Maurice Vernon, director of charity for JTEP and husband to the founder, Alayna Vernon, said his wife came up with the idea because she was passionate about helping families in need. 

JTEP has a thrift store located in West Tampa that people can come in and purchase any clothing item for one dollar.

Joining Together to Eliminate Poverty has a new thrift store under construction at 1932 W. Main Street in West Tampa. The store resells donations to people in need for one dollar an item.

“Every 30 days people can come and get 30 diapers and every three months and get three outfits for each family member completely free,” Vernon said, “We service over 300 families a month… normally they are just 100 dollars away [from having no money left to raise a family].” 

Vernon and his family are passionate to help their community. He said his family saw the needs they were experiencing in the community and decided to take action. 

“You are never going to change all of the poverty, but you can do little things and find the people that need and are willing to get help. Families need encouragement, to know that somebody cares,” Vernon said. “We treat everybody like people.”

Emma Friedman can be reached at emma.friedman@spartans.ut.edu

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