Reading Prerequisites

At the beginning of a college semester, my professor opened the calculus class stating *loosely paraphrased* that the greatest struggles students have with calculus isn’t the calculus material, it’s their poor algebra and geometry comprehension. And this was a truth that I heard over and over at the beginning of various courses—with respect to the subject at hand. If your French grammar and comprehension was too weak, it would be hard to keep up with the reading assignments in 18th Century French Literature. This is why there are course prerequisites…but what if you miss a prerequisite that virtually impacts all of your future studies? What if you miss a prerequisite that virtually impacts every aspect of your life? What if you don’t know how to read?

This month, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to hear Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Managing Director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, speak on two different occasions, bringing light to both the challenges youth are faced with and the efforts to reduce the academic inequity. This campaign focuses on the 3rd grade reading level and the achievement gap that results from the “summer slide.” He presented this video, which illustrates the likelihood that the income bracket children are born into impacts their academic attainment. Based on two fictional characters, this video illustrates non-fictional statistics related to literacy. One statistic highlights “that by the time they reach kindergarten, Jamie [low income child] will have already have fallen behind Jordan in language and pre-reading skills by 12-14 months.” Further, the low-income student loses months of learning during the summers between school years (“summer slide”) and 80% of low-income students cannot read by the end of third grade.

There are efforts to reduce the academic inequity with respect to literacy. This video is a news report of “Horizons,” a summer program that helps reduce the summer slide. This program mirrors a summer camp, with engaging, academic activities in the morning and physical recreation such as swimming in the afternoon, giving low-income students the opportunity to continue learning during the summer so they don’t end up further behind.

Sarasota County’s FCAT passing rate for 3rd grade reading is higher than the Florida’s passing rate, but still leaves room for improvement. In 2014, 71% of 3rd graders in Sarasota County passed the FCAT and 57% of 3rd graders in Florida passed. Recently, a program has been developed in our own county to close the academic gaps. Alta Vista Elementary School’s Eagle Academy fosters the growth of both parents and students. This year the Eagle Academy will offer a summer academic program for students entering kindergarten and first grade that focuses on “reading, language development, mathematics, the arts, and social and emotional skills” as well as afternoon recreational activities. Further, parents have the opportunity to go to “Parent University” and a certified nursing assistant program.

Imagine all the barriers you would face if you could not read at the third grade level. This video, Is America Dreaming, looks at the issue of social mobility in the United States based on the percent chance a person will end up in various income brackets based on the income bracket they were born into. One clip shows the benefits of going to college–but what chance do you have to succeed in college if you don’t even know how to read. The inability to read at the third grade level creates a barrier that has the potential to hugely impact how you are able to interact with the greater society, from academia to socializing to reading signs to learning more information.

Illiteracy is an issue we must address in order to be a country that honestly offers an equal opportunity to attain a decent standard of living. It’s important to assist those who have already slipped through the gaps, those who are already past the third grade but still cannot read at the third grade level. Simultaneously, we must ensure that this is not a problem for our future generations. It is time for us to be both reactive and proactive.

Sarasota Today. Tomorrow. Together.

(Guest post by Elma Felix)

Today, Sarasota residents love where we live, our beaches are ranked some of the best in the world, our days of sunshine and numerous arts destinations are top notch.  We have some of the best school districts in the state of Florida, and one of the most prestigious art colleges in the United States.  Residents love Sarasota County, and so do our over 90,000 seasonal residents who visit every year.  Everything that we love attracts new residents every day.  Although we’re not growing as fast as we were in the past (7,000 new residents a year in 2006), projected estimates place our County’s population at over  500,000 by the year 2040; that’s at a growth rate of approximately 1% per year, roughly 2,000 new residents a year.

There are wonderful things in Sarasota County that attract many; however, more recent trends like the gap between education and employment, the aging-in-place needs of our population, lack of affordable housing – amongst other issues – need our attention.  In this context, it is hard to think that any “Plan” could address these issues, right? Not quite. Our County’s Comprehensive Plan – in a nutshell – is a policy-based guidebook for the future of Sarasota County. The Comprehensive Plan addresses these issues on a policy level, including things like where new roads (and improvements) should go, what level of service our libraries should have, where new fire stations should be built, what areas are susceptible for redevelopment, where new parks go, how neighborhoods should be preserved and enhanced; amongst other things.  All of these combined create the Sarasota that we love.  Over the next eighteen months, Sarasota County staff will be updating the County’s Comprehensive Plan.  This Update aims at emphasizing the importance of important linkages between land use, mobility, economic development, sustainability, parks and health, as well as making the plan easier to navigate and understand – all in an effort to create stronger communities.

What we do today determines our footsteps tomorrow. Your voice is key as part of this process to shape the future goals of our County.  Once the process begins the website ( will host surveys, educational materials, workshop dates, videos and ways to stay involved throughout the Update.  The Comprehensive Plan Update Kick-Off event is at the new Gulf Gate Library on February 11th, 2015. Event time is 5:30pm and the presentation starts at 6pm; refreshments will be provided.  One idea is great, but 100 ideas are better.  Tell a neighbor, tell a friend, and bring them along to the Comprehensive Plan Kick-Off!

Today. Tomorrow. Together.  Let’s make Sarasota County great.

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.

dec fig2

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.

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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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