The latest reports show there are 773,801 children living in poverty in Florida’s 983 ZIP codes. Florida Chamber Foundation research shows nearly half of them live in just 150 or 15% of Florida’s ZIP codes. No child’s ZIP code should dictate their future, and the business community is leading the efforts to change those outcomes. Florida is adding $2.7 million of wealth per hour, creating one out of every 11 jobs but, somehow, 18.7% of our kids are in poverty and 100% need a pathway to earned success.
If Florida were a country, it would have the 15th largest economy in the world, which offers an unmatched potential for a great quality of life, making it the best place in the world to live, work, learn, raise a family and retire.
However, as Florida continues to be a haven of opportunities and its economy continues to grow and diversify, it must not be forgotten in our strive towards moving the needle that many Floridians are at a geographical disadvantage in the pursuit of prosperity.
As I said in 2016 when I testified before Congress in Washington, D.C., “The battle of this generation is between economic equality and economic opportunity — between those who believe that everyone is entitled to equal outcomes and those who believe everyone should have an equal opportunity at earned success.”
Looking deeper into the origins of such disadvantages forces us to consider that upbringing and availability of opportunity early on can significantly impact ability to prosper going forward.
Currently, 773,801 of Florida’s children are living in poverty — that’s 18.7%. In Orange County specifically, 58,404 children are living in poverty, that’s 19.5% of the children.
Florida’s job creators need to understand that children living in poverty today are part of Florida’s future workforce. As part of the Florida Equality of Opportunity Initiative, the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Florida Prosperity Project has set a goal to cut childhood poverty in half by 2030 and ensure that 100% of children have a pathway out of it.
To do this, the Florida Prosperity Project has identified 10 root causes of poverty and their unique impact on each of Florida’s 983 ZIP codes for Florida job creators to better understand the areas we need to unite around to lessen childhood poverty in Florida. Those include lack of employment opportunities, inequities in education and workforce development unaffordable and attainable housing, insufficient transportation options, disproportionate health access and outcomes, food insecurity, inaccessible and unaffordable childcare unsafe environments, disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system, and lack of recognition and access within a community.
Ending generational poverty can’t be done from the national or state level. In fact, the geography of counties can even be too large. To end generational poverty, we must identify the hurdles blocking a person’s path to prosperity, understand each neighborhood’s unique identity and troubles, and work with business leaders within those neighborhoods to provide solutions tailored to their communities.
A child’s future success may be impacted by where they live, and research shows many students living in high-poverty areas have fewer resources and may perform at lower academic levels than children living in higher socioeconomic income areas.
Investing in your future workforce includes addressing the most significant issues affecting them today. Generational poverty not only affects the environment that children grow up in, but the quality of education and resources that are available to them. Finding and fostering talent in Florida starts with providing every Floridian with the right opportunities.
Mark Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
To learn more or get involved with the Florida Prosperity Project movement, visit www.FLChamber.com/ProsperityFL.
*This op-ed originally published in the Orlando Sentinel.