Is Sarasota’s Economy Repelling the Youth?

I have frequently recognized the excitement in people’s reaction when they learn that I graduated from New College of Florida and decided to stay in Sarasota to work. “You’ve stayed! That’s what we need, more young people staying and working in our community!” In reviewing demographic data from the 2014 SCOPE Community Report Card, the cause of their excitement is apparent.

dec fig1

Figure 1: Median Age, U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.

The median age for Sarasota County is 16.4 years older than the national median age and 12.4 years greater than the Florida median age! Why isn’t the younger generation staying or moving to Sarasota County? We have great weather year round (it may get a little too hot, but those hot days are great beach days!), beautiful beaches, great food….who wouldn’t want to build a life here? Well, after reviewing a number of articles, two problems strike as the major Sarasota County youth repellant: the lack of jobs and the lack of affordable housing. The apparent lack of both jobs that match college graduates’ qualifications and affordable housing that would enable younger people to start building their lives serves as quite the unique dilemma. We will explore Sarasota’s dilemma through an exploration of what’s occurring in other areas in the United States and zoom back to what’s occurring in Sarasota County.

Jobs versus Affordable Housing

The problem highlighted by AP Economics writer Josh Boak in his article “Why areas with good jobs have hard-to-afford homes,” is defined clearly in the title of the article. As young adults are looking for both a place to live and a place to commence their career, this article suggests that it is difficult to find both in the same place. In hopes to build a career, people are moving to ‘the top job-generating areas” where they have to live with roommates and rent space as opposed to being able to begin to invest in a place of their own. The problem flips in areas with affordable homes—the job opportunities are insufficient.

The Atlantic’s senior editor Derek Thompson explores the same dilemma in “Why it’s so Hard for Millennials to find a Place to Live and Work,” by opening with the question “So what’ll be: Dayton or San Francisco” creating a contrast between the city with the most affordable housing and the city with greater social mobility. He presents the struggle to obtain what he calls the “two halves of the American Dream” by presenting the data that illustrates that “the cities with the least affordable housing often have the best social mobility” and vice versa. Thompson illustrates these problems with Chetty and Kolko’s maps (as seen below) with the color red representing the worst condition on both scales.

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Figure 2: “Economic Opportunity, by Location” Raj Chetty

dec fig3

Figure 3: “Percent of For-Sale Homes that are Affordable with a Median Household Income” Kolko/Trulia

The Rent is Too High and The Jobs Too Few

As seen in figure two, the economic opportunity in Sarasota and the majority of Florida is lacking. In “Exporting our best and brightest,” Herald Tribune guest columnist Erica Earl highlights that young adults leave Sarasota and Manatee because “they cannot find local jobs that match their skills, education and expectation.” So, from the data presented in Boak and Thompson’s articles you would assume that Sarasota has affordable housing. Unfortunately, you would assume wrong. In “Trouble with the wage gauge,” Herald Tribune reporter Zac Anderson highlights the unaffordability of housing in Sarasota. In this article, Anderson presents Zillow’s analysis finding Sarasota’s rent burden to be “one of the highest in the nation.”

Is the presence of both unaffordable housing and insufficient economic opportunities unique to Sarasota alone? Probably not. And the dilemma Sarasota is faced with may have to do with the current nature of our demographics. But, in a community that strongly desires a greater youth population, it would probably be best to increase both economic opportunity and affordable housing, becoming one of the most attractive counties for youth looking to begin their independent lives! Let’s break the trend and become the community that embodies the underpinnings of American Dream.

Something to Consider as We Begin the Holiday Season…

Dear Sarasota,

As we approach Thanksgiving, a holiday centered on giving thanks around a table of delicious food shared with family and friends, I beseech you to take the time to think about your neighbors. Not just the neighbors who live on your street, but every person that lives in Sarasota County. As you reflect on what you are thankful for, I want you to reflect on how we can improve the well-being of every member of the Sarasota community—specifically I want you to consider how we, as a community, can work to abolish food insecurity.

The SCOPE 2014 Community Report Card explores the issue of healthy eating, highlighting hindrances such as the lack of accessibility and unaffordability. Accessibility concerns the ability of a household to access grocery stores or other food outlets that offer healthy/fresh options. Affordability concerns the cost of healthier/fresher food options. In 2009, 68% of adults in Sarasota County reported eating less than 5 servings of fruits or vegetables everyday (; Community Report Card). In 2013 the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC) published a 2012 study, “Food Hardship in America 2012.” According to this study, 1 in 6 households in the United States were impacted by food hardship. Florida ranked number 12, landing itself in the top 20 states worst states for food hardship, with 21.3 percent of survey respondents answering they did not have enough money at some point in the last twelve months to buy food. The summary of the All Faith’s Food Bank and Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s 2014 report “On the Edge I and On the Edge II: Child Hunger Study Summary” highlights that, Florida is one of six states with “the highest child food-insecurity rates in the country.”*

Some of you may be unaware of the level of food security present in Sarasota County or Florida as a whole. “On the Edge I” highlights that, in Sarasota County, there are 9 census tract areas that are labeled as food deserts, “whereby urban residents live one mile or more and rural residents live 10 miles or more from a supermarket or large grocery store.” The following quote from a FRAC report illustrates how hunger may be invisible to those unaffected: “Americans do not always recognize how pervasive hunger is, or that it is a problem where they live. In our communities it is often hidden by families that do not want to share their economic struggles…It goes unseen by those not looking for it.” But food insecurity, with or without hunger, is present in Sarasota County, and it is impacting many of our neighbors, including children. In the 2012-13 academic year, 52.08% of students in Sarasota County were eligible for free/reduced price lunch (Florida Department of Education; Community Report Card). How does food insecurity influence the development of youth? Well, when we look at the FCAT scores of 10th grade students eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRL) and those who are not, the eligible students have lower passing rates.

frl fcat

Figure 1: “Percent of Students Passing the 10th Grade FCAT and the Percent of Students Receiving Free/Reduced Lunch Sarasota County,” 2014 SCOPE Community Report Card, Data Source: Florida Department of Education.

The summary of “On the Edge I and On the Edge II” researchers found that a large number of children in Sarasota County experience ‘food insecurity without hunger,” as illustrated by the responses to the following questions: “did your meals only include a few kinds of cheap foods because your family was running out of money to buy food;” “did you worry that food at home would run out before your family got money to buy more;” “did the food that your family bought run out before your family had money to buy more?” “On the Edge I” refers to literature that presents the mental and physical effects of worrying, such as anxiety and poor school performance.

What causes food insecurity? “On the Edge” links high levels of poverty and unemployment to food insecurity. As also seen in the Community Report Card, poverty and unemployment has increased in Sarasota between 2007 and 2012. The percent of people in poverty in Sarasota County increased from 8.10% to 12.70%; the percent of Sarasota County residents under the age of 18 in poverty increased from 13.10% to 21.50% (Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates; Community Report Card). The unemployment rate increased from 4.4% in 2007 to 8.8% in 2012 (Local Area Unemployment Statistics; Community Report Card). During this time, there was an increase in the percent of Sarasota County households receiving food stamps from 2.19% to 8.66% (American Community Survey; Community Report Card). While poverty is a cause of food insecurity, the “On the Edge” report highlights that food insecurity may negatively impact both people living above or below the poverty line.

It is important to also recognize that the presence of food insecurity in the US at any regional level is a result of structural failures. This is clear just in the definition of a food desert, which is a result of physical barriers to food access (in this case, distance). Joseph Stiglitz presents the question “How could it be that in the richest country of the world there was still hunger,” in his article “The Insanity of Our Food Policy.” How could someone working 2,080 hours a year earn less than the poverty threshold for a family of three? An important point Stiglitz draws out is “American farmers are heralded as among the most efficient in the world…and yet millions of Americans still suffer from hunger, and millions more would, were it not for the vital programs that the government provides to prevent hunger.” Further, Stiglitz highlights that American food policies tend to foster production of cheap, unhealthy foods, negatively impacting the food options and health of lower-income Americans. The issue is a structural failure.

Dismantling the structural inequalities that fosters food insecurity, as well as other inequalities, takes more than holiday donations, which are very, very important in my opinion and I encourage you to donate if you can, be it a donation of your time or of goods! But, it takes an attitude change of society—an attitude change that reflects on the fact that every individual is human with value regardless of their socioeconomic class, their race, their gender, their nationality, their religion, or any other identifiers that have been used as a tool of differentiation. It takes policy change. It takes local initiatives. It takes consistent commitment. It takes a lifestyle change (one which I still haven’t completely figured out…).

This holiday season, I hope you remember the people who are working full time, minimum wage jobs and still struggle to make ends meet. Instead of wondering what they did wrong to end up in the situation they did, I hope you ask yourself why the minimum wage isn’t enough to live off of (and I hope you think beyond just suggesting that they get another job…). I hope you consider the people who are out of work for various reasons and are struggling to stay afloat. I hope you take the next step and consider how the economic stance of individuals impacts their dependents, including children and dependent adults. Then, I hope you consider how that will impact the future of Sarasota County. When you’re done considering these things, I hope you consider what you can do to help your neighbors have a more enjoyable holiday season and what efforts you will commit to in the New Year to demand and enforce change. Whether your efforts are big or small, every effort is significant.

Season’s Greetings.


P.S. If you are interested in learning more about Sarasota County, from the state of education to the state of parks, be sure to check out the 2014 SCOPE Community Report Card. Further, keep an eye out for the Community Report Card Road Show starting in January—a great opportunity to discuss your aspirations for your community and share thoughts about the data in the report card.

*Thanks to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and All Faith’s Food Bank for taking the lead on gathering research on this critically important issue at a local level!


Reflections on the 2014 CIC Impact Summit: Using Honest Data to Inspire and Support Progress

The theme of 2014 Community Indicators Consortium Impact Summit, hosted in Washington, D.C., was “Data-Stories-Impact: Translating Indicators into Action.” What data are sufficient indicators to measure the well-being of our community? How do we present these indicators to engage the community and inspire action? What do we do with the data once we have it?

What should we present?

Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institute gave the keynote speech “Seeing the Dream: Social Mobility, Social Indicators, and Data.” Certain statements stood out as particularly important in this speech. The first is that we should present honest data. He claims that there is no such thing as a “neutral social science” but there is an “honest social science.” Everyone has a point of view concerning various topics such as transportation or the unemployment rate. Let’s choose the unemployment rate for this example. Reeves stated that when analyzing a graph with a flat line, one could interchangeably describe the horizontal line as “flat, stagnant, or stable.” While both “stagnant” and “stable” honestly describe a flat line, they are not neutral phrases. There is no such thing as a neutral social science given our individual perceptions of a just society, but it is important that we present the data honestly. Thus, in describing the same unemployment data as stagnant or stable, the author allocates a certain value towards the unemployment rate.

The second important topic addressed in the keynote speech is how we choose indicators. Do the indicators we choose actually predict what we are trying to measure? For example, will following student test scores indicate a student’s academic success? Reeves suggests that, in the process of deciding leading indicators, research should be conducted to identify whether or not they sufficiently indicate the overarching topic. Many presenters discussed choosing strong indicators that captured what you were trying to measure as opposed to gathering too many indicators which could lead to losing attention of readers (politicians, community leaders, community members, etc.). An example, presented by Emily Pacetti of The Fund for Our Economic Future, concerned the use of job growth as an indicator of the communities economic health. Job growth alone does not illustrate economic health, as illustrated by communities with high levels of job growth as well as high levels of disparities. This suggests we have to also pay attention to the quality of the jobs.

The third important topic concerning what should be presented is embodied in the statement “you aren’t saying anything until you say something a reasonable person can disagree with.” He presents his own interests in the topic of intergenerational mobility as an example stating that while recognizing the existence of the unequal income distribution may be more universally accepted, championing for more equitable relative mobility may be more controversial or debatable.

Separate from the keynote speech, another thing to consider when choosing data is the power of disaggregated data. In the session titled “Black Male Achievement” a discussion took place concerning data disaggregated by race and gender. An individual in the audience raised concern about the disaggregation of data leading to members of the community feeling less obligated to address the issue because the lack of identification with the impacted group grants people the opportunity to say “it’s not my problem.” Two very important ideas came from this point of discussion: (1) Your community cannot claim success or reach the top if it ignores the struggles of the marginalized groups and (2) if people respond by stating “it’s not my problem,” your community has another issue that needs to be addressed.

How should we present it?

How do we present data to grasp people’s attention? The opening speaker of the conference, Schwabish, spoke on how to present data in a PowerPoint presentation. Three key points in this presentation were to do the following: show data, reduce clutter, and integrate the graphics with the text. Something that was echoed throughout the conference was to design it to grasp attention and to keep it simple in order to effectively communicate the idea and hold people’s attention! To grasp attention, people could use infographics, videos, or creative e-blasts. (Interested in the power of infographics in presenting data in a non-intimidating way? Check out this infographic from on suburban poverty!) In a session on storytelling, an individual from Pittsburg suggested catching people’s attention through displaying data in themed E-blasts such as “10 Reasons to be Thankful for Living in Pittsburg,” and “Has Pittsburg been Naughty or Nice.” Referring again to the work of Richard Reeves, one way is to make a video simplifying what otherwise could be viewed as a complex topic: see “Is America Dreaming?: Understanding Social Mobility.”

A group of presenters from The Center for Community Solutions gave multiple points of advice as to how to present data. One was to make a webpage for each indicator. This would keep a clean, accessible, and simple presentation of each indicator. Second is to link a social event to the indicators. This brings immediate importance to the indicator, helping people connect your research to daily life. Third is to market the data, not the initiative. Make sure people know what you’re discussing. Finally, make a large scale mailing to big players! Get the information out to the decision makers who need to know about this information.

Then what?

Finally, the conference covered what to do once the data is in the hands to of the public. In “The Community is Changing-Are We Ready?” Kevin Paris discussed having community conversations around data. To engage around SCOPE’s 2014 Community Report Card for Sarasota County, we’re taking this data about Sarasota County on the road! We wish to engage the community in community conversations surrounding the data we collected for the report card. What’s in the report card? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you! Check it out on our website under “New Release!” on our home page at! Have questions regarding the report card or the community conversations? Feel free to email me at or comment below. We hope to engage you during one of our many community conversations around the report card so that we can use this honest data to inspire and support progress within our community.

Something to Consider as You Read the News…

When we read the newspaper, many people check out the unemployment rate to get a sense of what is happening in the economy. However, the reliability of the unemployment data is coming into question—how well do unemployment statistics depict the health of the labor market and economy? How healthy is our economy actually? The use of unemployment statistics as an indicator of economic health has been challenged before because it does not capture individuals who exit the labor force. Recent discussions of underemployment and persistent levels of involuntary employment have also begun to challenge the significance of the unemployment rate as a self-standing indicator. An alternate unemployment statistic, known as U6 unemployment statistics, include discouraged workers and involuntary part-time workers. In August, while the standard unemployment rate was 6.2, the U6 unemployment rate was 12.2, illustrating a higher need.

This blog post will explore an indicator of the health of the economy that is not captured by unemployment statistics: involuntary part-time employment. Involuntary part-time employment, or part-time employment for economic reasons, is defined part-time employment (working 1-34 hours per week) as a result of the state of the economy. This includes workers who were only able to find part-time jobs and workers who were full time but had their hours cut back below 35 hours per week. This is important because the level of your employment influences your capacity to earn a significant income and participate in your society, similar to the importance of workers’ wages.

Recognizing Underemployment

In “Part-Time Workers a Full-Time Headache on Yellen Radar: Economy,” the author highlights a portion of Federal Reserve Chairs Janet Yellen’s speech in which she states “the unemployment rate is down, but not included in that rate are more than 7 million people who are working part time but want a full job. As a share of the workforce, that number is very high historically.”


Figure 1: “Employment Level- Part-Time for Economic Reasons, All Industries,” Current Population Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics (The unit of measurement is thousands of people. For example 7,000 thousands people or 7,000,000 people.)

Figure 1 is inclusive of employed individuals age 16 or over working 1-34 hours a week (part-time) for economic reasons, or involuntarily. The unit of measurement is thousands of people. As illustrated in the graph, the number of involuntary part-time workers increased by a large amount following the Great Recession. There has been a downward trend in the number of involuntary part-time workers. However, it has not reached the pre-recession levels. As of August 2014, there were 7,277,000 involuntary part-time workers in the United States.

In Valletta and Bengali’s “What’s Behind the Increase in Part-Time Work?” the authors dissect potential reasons part-time work follows cyclical economic changes. They illustrate that, while part-time employment for non-economic reasons has been on a general downwards trend, part-time employment for economic reasons rise during economic hardship and fall when the economy recovery. Breaking down part-time employment for economic reasons, slack work/cutting back workers hours has a greater role in the high level of involuntary part-time employment levels than only being able to find part-time work.

The Opportunity to Earn a Living

In Ylan Mui’s “More Americans are stuck in part-time work,” Carrie Gleason is quoted highlighting the fact that “low-quality part-time jobs” prevent people from “productively engage[ing] in their lives or in the economy.” While this article highlights some of the action taken by workers within the community demanding a better treatment, such as more reliable work schedules, this article also highlights that individuals affected by long term unemployment have little power to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment. One 65 year old woman was unemployed for 10 years before she was offered a part-time job at Wal-Mart making $9.55 an hour. She was quoted stating “I gotta take what I can get.” In Geewax’s “As Labor Market Advances, Millions are Stuck in Part Time Jobs,” Peter Morci is quoted stating that “businesses can hire desirable part-time workers to supplement a core of permanent, full-time employees, but at lower wages.” This suggests economic conditions have fostered a potentially exploitative power dynamic in the labor market.

The following tables from Zach Bethune’s “Slack in the Labor Market: Who are the involuntary part-time workers and what are their outcomes?” utilize data from the Current Population Survey to illustrate the transition rates from a part-time job for economic reasons to a full time job or to unemployment. The transition from part-time for economic reasons to full time is “the fraction of all workers who were working part-time for economic reasons a year ago, that reported working full-time in the current period.” Bethune labels defines the normal transition rate as 45%. Yet since the recession, the transition rate has stayed around 38%.

rate-pter-fter-2014-07-18Figure 2: “Transition Rate from Part-time for Economic Reasons to Full-time”

Figure 3 illustrates the transition from part-time for economic reasons to unemployment. Bethune highlights the current transition rate as a more positive signal because the transition rate has returned near pre-recessions levels, which is approximately 6%.

rate-pter-unmp-2014-07-18 Figure 3: “Transition Rate from Part-time for Economic Reasons to Unemployment”

While the decline in the transition from part-time to unemployed is a positive indication of the health of the labor market, the low transition from part-time for economic reasons to full time could suggest barriers to earning a sufficient income.

Florida Underemployment

Table 16 of the Geographic Profile of Employment and Unemployment present the number of part-time workers by state. This table presents the data of part time workers who could only find part-time work, excluding explicit data on the number of full-time workers working part-time for economic reasons. In 2012, there were 1,496,000 part-time workers in Florida. 468,000 were part-time workers for economic reasons. This number is not a complete depiction of involuntary part-time employment. It only illustrates people who could only find part-time work. 710,000 that were unemployed were searching for full-time work.

How is the underemployment rate in Sarasota County? How many people in Sarasota County are trying to improve their well-being through earning a sufficient living, but cannot find sufficient work? Something to consider when pondering the well-being of members of our community as you read the local news…

2014 Stand-Up To Bullying Conference

You need only glance at the headlines to see that bullying has become a sad fact of adolescence.  Up to one in three kids report being victims of bullying at school.  49% of students between the grades of 4 and 12 say they’ve been targets of bullying at least once in the past month.

2014 Bullying Conference

2014 Stand-Up To Bullying Conference

There are four types of bullying – Verbal, Emotional/Social, Physical, and Cyber.  Cyber bulling is the most recent type of bullying that is having the largest impact on children and young adults.  There are three strong reasons why cyber bullying has become so popular – Cyber bullying does not require a face-to-face interaction with the individual being bullied so less empathy and compassion is felt, cyber bullying is fast and can be passed around from person to person with lightning speed but also be endlessly revisited by victims, and many cyber bullies don’t believe they can be caught or discovered.  What they don’t understand is that once something is posted out in cyber space, even if you delete it, it can be found by the right cyber space hacker.  What bullies don’t realize, especially if they are young children or adults is that this type of bullying can come back in the future to cause even more harm.

The scars of bullying can linger for many years and can lead to emotional problems, including anxiety and depression.  In addition to emotional problems bullying can also lead to such serious consequences for students that include a higher dropout rate, more incidents of violence at schools, lower self-esteem, fewer friends, declining grades, and increased illness.

With rising concerns about violent crime among youth offenders, parents, schools, and the community need to be concerned and become involved in reducing bullying behaviors because of the following reasons:

  • Some victims of bullying may turn to violent means of retaliation.
  • Some severely bullied victims have tried or do commit suicide as a means to escape their tormentors.
  • Individuals that bully are highly likely to engage in other antisocial and delinquent behaviors such as vandalism, shoplifting, truancy, and illicit drug use.  These behaviors often will continue into young adulthood.
  • Bullying can create a negative school environment which is not conducive to learning and good social relationships.
  • Bullying is a nationwide problem, including Manatee and Sarasota County.

An area of growing concern with bullying and teasing is as it applies to children and youth with disabilities or differences.  Several studies in recent years have discovered that children with disabilities more frequently encounter bullying than their typical peers.  In a nationwide poll released in 2012 it indicated that 63 percent of kids with autism have been bullied.  Another study published that same year found that about half of adolescents with autism, intellectual disability, speech impairments, and learning disabilities were bullied at school.  The likelihood that a child or teen with a disability would be bullied was greatest for those with the worst social and language skills and for students who spent more time in mainstream classrooms.  Often when this occurs it is the student with the disability that is removed and uprooted from their environment to “solve” the problem and are placed in a more segregated environment.  The U S Department of Education warns school districts that this type of reaction to a bullying problem can lead to a denial of a student’s right to a free and appropriate public education or FAPE and to participate in the least restrictive environment that would allow a student to receive a meaningful education.

The Family Network on Disabilities (FND Manasota) is hosting a Stand-Up to Bullying Conference in Bradenton on Saturday September 20, 2014 from 8AM-1:30 PM as well as a Community Awareness Breakfast on Friday, September 19th at 8:30 AM.  Details about this conference and registration can be obtained by clicking here.

Harwood Innovators Lab Experience

I had the privilege of participating in last week’s Harwood Public Innovator’s Lab, sponsored and hosted by The Patterson Foundation.   Over 70 participants from 4 counties (Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto) gathered to learn the Harwood principles of community engagement.  In his book “The Work of Hope”, Rich Harwood discusses the need for people to work for the common good.  People from disparate backgrounds can cross existing boundaries and walls to come together for the good of the community.  Over the next year, teams of public innovators who “graduated” from the Harwood Labs last week will spread out into their communities to ascertain what citizens want and need in order to live in a community where they can thrive.  I am a member of the Sarasota County Library System Team.  Libraries hold a unique position in the community in that they are generally seen as safe and unbiased common places where people from all walks of life are welcome.  It could easily be argued that the libraries are the most diverse places in Sarasota County.

For the “Aspirations to Actions” project, which will emerge from the Harwood Lab training, the libraries can take advantage of their position in the community to facilitate people coming together and forging real connections with one another.  We can explore new ways of connecting people in different venues or through different media.  The libraries can be a vehicle for building relationships and commitment to the larger community.  Aspirations to Actions will allow us to receive input from the community and design projects to effectively bring people together for the common good.

To that end, our first step is to ask you 4 questions and gather your insights as citizens of the community.  These 4 questions are:

1.  What kind of community do you want to live in?

2.  Why is that important to you?

3.  How is that different from how you see things now?

4.  What are some of the things that need to happen to create that kind of change?

I’ve made it easy for you to answer the questions by creating a Survey Monkey link where you can enter your answers to the questions, submit the survey and you’re done!  It should take less than 5 minutes of your time.  Feel free to write as little or as much as you’d like to answer the questions and your responses are anonymous.  If you have any questions, email me at

Here’s the link to the survey:

A Snapshot of American Consumer Behavior

Consumer spending, which is responsible for about 70% of the economic activity in the United States, plays an important role in the structure and health of the US economy. Thus, answers to the following questions may give us clues about the state of our economy: who is spending, where are people spending, and what are people spending on? This blogpost will attempt to begin to answer these questions by presenting data on a breakdown of how consumers are spending, the changes in spending in the United States over the past few decades, and a couple of examples of how consumer spending impacts the development and success of businesses.

A Breakdown of How We Spend

The mean (average) consumer expenditure before taxes was $51,422 from June 2012 to June 2013 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey). One way to consider spending by income brackets is to order the sample of individuals by income, from lowest to highest, and split the sample of people into five groups, creating quintiles. The lowest quintile made up 8.6% of the aggregate expenditures, the second quintile 12.7%, the third quintile 16.7%, the fourth quintile 23.3%, and the highest quintile 34.4%. The following table present a breakdown of consumer expenditure based on income.

graph 1

Table 1:  Percent of income expended per item by income group (quintiles) before taxes, Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey.

One of the biggest spending variations from lowest income quintile to upper income quintile can be seen in the percent of expenditure towards personal insurance and pensions—a 13.4 percentage point difference. On average, individuals in the upper quintile spent 15.6% of their income on personal insurance and pensions while individuals in the lower quintile spent 2.2% of their income. Another way of considering consumer expenditure is considering the percent of the aggregate expenditure each income group is responsible for (see table 2). For example, the upper quintile made up 55.7% of the total spending on personal insurance and pensions while the lowest quintile made up 1.8% of the total spending.

graph 2

Table 2:  Percent of aggregate expenditure each income group is responsible for (quintiles) before taxes, Data Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey.

How Has Spending Changed

The amount households spend on certain items has changed over time, and for various reasons. For example, when comparing consumer expenditure statistics from 1949 to 2011, the amount individuals spend on homes has increased while the amount people spend on food has decreased.  gr-pm-spending-462-01

Figure 1: Source: “What America Buys,” Lam Thuy Vo/NPR and Bureau of Labor Statistics

In NPR’s (National Public Radio) What America Buys, the authors present one reason for the decrease in food and clothes expenditure: increased productivity in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Thus, technological innovations play a role in the change in consumer spending. The article also highlights that consumers are buying bigger houses on average and car ownership is more common.

So, now we have an idea of who is spending and what people are spending on. However, where are people spending?

Where are Americans Shopping

Where Americans shop depends on multiple factors. One factor is household income.

In The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World., Schwartz presents the change in consumer expenditure as a result of income inequality, highlighting that stock shares have increased for “upper-end stores like Nordstrom and bargain-basement chains like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar Stores” while shares of middle of the road companies have fallen. In this article, when discussing the middle class customers of Olive Garden, a Morgan Stanley restaurant analyst, John Glass, highlighted that the growth of income is stagnant and the costs of necessities are rising. Thus, people have to reduce spending in other places.

The economic condition of those who identify as middle class may be pushing individuals to reconsider where they are shopping. According to Retale’s The Dollar Stores of America, the median income of a state is a potential indicator of the number of dollar stores in the area. For example, the median household income in South Carolina is $44,623 and there are 1.65 dollar stores per 10,000 citizens. However, in Mississippi, the median income is $38,882 and there are 2.45 dollar stores per 10,000 citizens. In this study, Retale is specifically considering the spread of the top 7 dollar store chains.

While these statistics are national, costs and needs vary by region. What do you think households in Sarasota County spend their income on? If you were to track your spending for 2 weeks, what would the breakdown of your spending look like?

The Abundance Festival, May 29, 2014, Broadway UMC, Indianapolis, IN

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Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is about building community, from the inside out, finding out what is it, that we care about so much, that we are willing to take action to make our community a better place. This is one of those workshops that help me want to continue this ABCD work. Remember: there is no one we do not need.

John Mcknight and Peter Block, co-authors of the Abundant Community; Awakening the Power of families and neighborhoods, joined renowned Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann, author most recently of “Journey to the Common Good. Talked with us about how associations, institutions, churches and citizens can build and nurture relationships that allow us to unleash our gifts and create a better community, that moves us from a narrative of scarcity to one of abundance.

The Speakers:
John McKnight not only taught me Asset-Based Community Development, but along the way he became my friend. This was my first time meeting Peter Block but I held on to every word he said. Mari Evans was a guest speaker, she is known for her outstanding poetry and a dear friend of Maya Angelou. Walter Brueggemann brought the house down with his amazing biblical knowledge.

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DeAmon Harges is the original “Roving Listener” as a neighbor and staff member of the Broadway United Methodist Church, in Indianapolis, IN. His role is to listen and discover the gifts, passions and dreams of citizens in his community, and to find ways to utilize them in order to build community, economy, and “mutual delight.” DeAmon is also a Co-founder of Tesserae Learning Community, and an artist.

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The Artist: The perimeter of the room is lined with local artists selling their work:

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Mary's Blog 10Mary's Blog 11Broadway UMC: Everywhere I went through out the church, the gifts and talents of the community are all over the walls, it is true, there is no one we do not need.

Mary's Blog 12Mary's Blog 13Mary's Blog 14The People I Meet:

Mary's Blog 17Mary's Blog 18Mary's Blog 19Thanks to April Doner an ABCD connector, local artist, and amazing friend – I meet a whole bunch of great people.

Mary's Blog 21Mary's Blog 22Mary's Blog 23The neighborhood:
Asset mapping, is finding out what are those treasures in our neighborhood that make them special to us. We all haveMary's Blog 25 them so let’s go roving in the neighborhood.

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Residential Segregation & Suburban Poverty

New research published in the last few years has uncovered a recent phenomenon sweeping over residential housing all across the nation. Pockets and clusters of concentrated poverty are our most vivid images of residential segregation by income. But we are now in a time when we are having to reconceptualize our images of place and poverty to include areas that are much more familiar than ‘inner city neighborhoods’, ‘ghettos, or ‘the wrong side of the tracks’.

Recent Trends: # of People in Poverty are Increasing…

Data has shown that concentrated poverty was on the decline in the 1990s. By the close of 2010, there had been a large reallocation of the population to the poverty line, and into regions, neighborhoods and areas of concentrated and extreme poverty. Much of this turn was the result of a slowing economy and the recent economic downturn. In this time span, the number of people living below the federal poverty line increased by over 12 million, pushing the national rate of poverty to 15% (1).

The percent of residents living in poverty in Sarasota County increased from 8.4% in 2002 to 12.7% in 2012. The percent of residents under the age of 18 almost doubled from 11.9% in 2002, to 21.5% in 2012 (9).

The most recent census data released at the end of June (2014), revealed that the total population grew by about 10 million people over the last decade, but the percent of people living in high poverty areas increased by over 50%. In 2010, four states had one third of their populations living in high poverty areas, but by the end of the decade, a greater total of fourteen states had a third of its population living in poverty stricken areas (3).

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies release annual data about housing in the United States. Most recent data show that 35.3% of American households (40.9 million) are cost burdened, meaning they spend about a third of their annual income on housing costs. Another 17.1% are severely cost burdened – shaving off at least 50% of their annual income for housing (4). This value has been increasing since the turn of 2000.

What does housing cost burden look like in Sarasota County?
(households with a housing demand that is at least 30% of their income)

Owners with a Mortgage                            47.5%
Owners without a Mortgage                     18.7%
Renters                                                        55.4%

[Source: Sarasota County Property Appraiser]



[Image Source: Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, State of the Nation’s Housing 2014]

The number of people in poverty are increasing in new places….

Concentrated poverty is something that is often more pronounced and characterized in inner city neighborhoods, and has historically been an affliction of more urban places. However, we must be careful to say that it doesn’t exist here in our communities. Poverty is affecting greater parts of our nation that have historically been middle-class, American communities. The Brooking Institution released a study, called The Suburbanization of Poverty, which evaluated the change in the U.S. poor population by community type between 2000 and 2008. The study found that the population of people living in poverty in large metropolitan suburbs increased faster than any other community type (10). More people in the suburbs are living in poverty than ever before. At the same time, the rate of poverty in the suburbs is increasing faster than any other community type in the nation.

Change in the U.S. Poor Population by Community Type, 2000 to 2008 
Population in Poverty

                                       2000                       2008                   Difference          % Change

Nation                           33,899,812           39,108,422           5,208,610             15.4%

Primary Cities              10,387,549           10,969,243           581,694                5.6%

Suburbs                        9,991,292             12,491,486           1,284,889             25.0%

Small Metro Areas       6,579,025             7,863,914             1,284,889             9.5%

Non-Metro Areas         6,941,946             7,783,779             841,833                12.1%

[Taken from: Brookings Institution, The Suburbanization of Poverty (2010)]

Suburban Poverty

Although residential segregation is still more pervasive by race (even in Sarasota County), recent research has revealed that residential segregation by income is on the rise, and has been for about three decades (6)(7). This is closely tied to the increasing income inequality that the nation has been experiencing. Not only are household incomes reaching greater levels of inequality, the housing market is mirroring these changes on our physical landscapes. In the last three decades, the percentage of housing marketed to middle-income households or mixed-income neighborhoods have decreased. On the other hand, the percentage of housing for low income, as well as higher level incomes, have increased (6). As we are seeing increasing polarization between low and high incomes, we are also seeing an increase divide between lower income and higher income housing affordability:

housing stock change

[Taken from: Pew Research Center, The Rise of Residential Segregation by Income (2012)]

Since housing is a durable good, the household profile to which the housing is marketed will not likely shift over time. In fact, as time passes, the value of the housing good decreases. (Unless, of course, processes of redevelopment, retrofitting and gentrification are swept over these areas.) This means that housing developed for lower income households today will always be housing for low income households, which will affect the socio-spatial layout of communities in the long run (7). In effect, the inequality that is being etched into our urban and suburban landscapes today will perforate far into the future.

The following images are taken from the aforementioned Pew Research Center report. They show the degree of residential segregation in the nation’s 10 most populated metropolitan areas. These are also some of the most highly residentially segregated areas by income. The red shade represents low income areas, the blue shade represents high income areas. The neutral shade represents a middle or mixed income area.

Segregation ATLSegregation LA     Segregation Miami


Segregation NYC     Segregation Washington DC
[Source: Pew Research Center, Social & Demographic Trends]

What would Sarasota County look like if a map such as those above were created?

 Unfortunately, there are consequences to residential income segregation. One of which being economic growth. This has been associated with spatial mismatch and skill complementarity (8).

→ Spatial mismatch speaks to a sociological idea that residents in concentrated, low income neighborhoods have greater difficulty in finding employment because they are often located at great distances from centers of high employment. They face challenges in long commuting times, as well as additional costs for travel that place a greater financial burden on households.

→ Skill complementarity is a concept that refers to the ratio of high-skilled workers to low-skilled workers that is optimal for economic growth in an area. When high skilled (often higher income) workers and low skilled (often lower income) workers are physically separated in the areas of the city they inhabit, economic growth can be hindered. Low skilled workers are not able to access to service- or manual- employment that is more demanded in higher income areas. On the other, high skilled labor is not available (or incentivized) in low income areas where high-skill services are needed.

Extreme concentrated poverty, in itself, has many consequences. Research has proven that poverty is related to underperforming and lower ranking public schools, poor housing and health conditions, barriers to private services and job opportunities, and higher crime rates (2)(5). A lack of quality education and opportunities for employment has led to high rates of local unemployment, increased instances of crime, and disincentives for children to stay in school.

With very high housing cost burdens, renters in low-income and impoverished neighborhoods are not meeting the higher rents needed for property owners to properly maintain buildings. Building neglect further leads to deteriorated housing conditions. Negative outsider perception and physical deterioration of the housing stock and built environment can lead to disinvestment of businesses and services in the area (5). Areas and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty or low-income households do not provide incentive for redevelopment without large governmental intervention to coax housing developers.


So let’s brainstorm solutions…

Income inequality is leaving an imprint on the physical place we live in every day. In a time of economic recovery, these are the issues we must consider as development regains momentum. The crux lies in the kind of development that we want to promote.

Mixed income housing is a growing field of interest in development of affordable housing. The principles of mixed income seeks to provide housing options wherein households of various income levels can share the same residential location. Such developments can be created at the street, block, or neighborhood scale.

Most interest in mixed income communities comes from the proposed benefits that these kinds of communities can have on lower income households. Such as:

→ Investment in housing in new, ‘up and coming’, neighborhoods that low income households would not otherwise have the means to invest in, thus increasing wealth and net worth. The ability to invest in housing of higher value are usually restricted to middle or higher income households.

→ As mentioned previously, low income households are traditionally geographically isolated from services. Mixed income housing can give low income households the same access to social services as other income level households.

→ Spatial mismatch is the concept that households are not located near areas that provide employment. Low income households are often located in neighborhoods that require long commutes to access employment – hindering accessibility, increasing household costs, and reducing hireability. Mixed income communities can connect lower income households to better paying jobs that are located closer to home.

→ The last major benefit that mixed income communities can have in lower income households lies in the neighborhood life and social benefits. Traditional neighborhoods do not connect people of varying income levels since these neighborhoods are usually physically divided or geographically distant. The benefits associated with social networks, lower crime rates, safer environments, and greater solidarity between people of different incomes can be paramount in improving social cohesion among people of varying incomes. (11)

Mixed income housing is an evolving concept. Its success depends on many factors and must evolve to the community in which it will be developed. The benefits described above are only a few that propose mixed income development as an aspect of affordable housing. Perhaps mixed income communities are an aspect of more inclusive communities in which people of all walks of life can share easy access to jobs, services, the corner market or the cafe down the street.

This is one type of solution that can ease residential segregation by income and associated consequences. There is no one solution and solutions are often a dynamic of different ideas and concepts that cover many different bases.

What do you think is another aspect of a solution to the recent trends we have been seeing across the country?

Have you seen these changes take place?

Leave a comment here or start a new conversation on our facebook page!

Visualization and Human Connection as Tools to Build a Better Community

Growing up, we participate in certain activities to help us build towards our own futures. For example, when asked what we want to be when we grow up, we use the information we are able to collect and our imaginations to visualize our future careers and lives. When learning how to interact with other people, many of our mentors and role models probably presented some version of the popular “treat others as you would like to be treated.” But what if we began to use these tools for something more than personal future planning? What if we began to use these tools to help build a greater community? Through the accessible presentation of community data, through individuals taking the time to consider the well-being of other members of the community, and through the presence of inclusive third-places we may be able to direct the skills we honed for personal development towards community development.

Visualizing Data

An important step in visualizing community change is being able to visualize the current state of your community as well as the potential state of your community given certain changes. This can be made possible with community data, such as data measuring the employment rate, graduation rates, rates of homelessness, and the number of empty single family homes in a community. Such data can tell us a story about how we may better improve our community for all of its members.

In his TED talk, David McCandless discusses the power of being able to visualize data, or create visual information, “so that we can see the patterns and connections that matter and then designing that information so it makes more sense, or tells a story, or allows us to focus only on the information that’s important.” For example, understanding financial figures that may reach beyond our full comprehension (such as billions of dollars) are better presented with figures that present relativity. As well, visual information is more accessible to everyone and would reduce the feeling of data overload.

To check out some visual presentations of Sarasota County’s community data, keep an eye out for SCOPE’s Community Report Card!

Another example of a way to visualize community data is through mapping. In an episode of Geospatial Revolution, members of the project “Map Kibera” presents one way in which mapping can help build a better community—by creating a visual presentation of the community data so the information is accessible to the people of the community. This project exposed opportunities to locate the community of Kibera’s resources, as well as opportunities to better utilize their resources.  The mapping project was started to help guide “a proper discussion about the future of Kibera.” For example, young girls shared places that are not safe to walk on the map. After these points were added to the map, police posts were placed in those areas. This creation of visual information helped people visualize what they can to do improve their community.

Sarasota County Green Map is an interactive, collaborative map that presents a visual of resources people may utilize in order to help create a more sustainable community. For example, you can find where local produce is accessible. The development of this map allows people to locate resources and potentially recognize what needs to be utilized more or what could be added to Sarasota County to make it a greener county.

Visualizing the Lives of Others

Outside of data, another way of visualizing your ideal community is through reflecting on how you would want your community to be designed if you were able to design your community before you joined it and you had no idea what your place in your community would be. Concepts such as the “Veil of Ignorance,” as found in John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, challenges people to consider what they would define as justice given that they were unaware of the barriers or privileges they had in life. Imagining a situation in which you did not know what privileges or barriers you’re faced with, what would you consider to be your ideal, just community?

Connecting in a Third-Place

While community data is a strong tool that can be used to enact great change, we have to remember that quantitative data does not tell the full story of the human experience. As well, we may be missing key information that impacts our ability to fully picture the lives of others. Thus, in order to better understand the other members of our community, we must learn more about our neighbors. One way to increase human interaction in a community is through the development of inclusive third-places. Third-place is the place that is neither work nor home, but another place where people can meet and spend time together. Opportunities to engage each other in conversation will allow people to understand what the community needs beyond what quantitative data can tell us on its own. As well, it provides opportunities for people to brainstorm ideas concerning how to approach the future.

So, using information you gain from community data and human connections, what do you want our community to look like as we move into the future?