Originally Published in the Herald Tribune by Dale White, February 22, 2017
Although he received a positive reception from an audience of local business and civic leaders Wednesday, Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson says he frequently gets a negative reaction when he raises the troubling issue of how many Floridians live in poverty.
Many people think an organization that promotes business interests puts profits over people and should not get involved in “a social issue,” Wilson said. “They ask, ‘Are you a lefty, liberal, social nut to worry about poverty?’”
Yet, in his role as head of the Florida Chamber, Wilson says he should be spreading the word about a disturbing reality many of this state’s more than 20 million residents would prefer not to discuss, much less acknowledge: More than 3 million of their number live in poverty and many of them are so disadvantaged that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot climb out.
When a low-income mother with two children gets a raise in wages, the presumption is that she can afford a better lifestyle, Wilson said. Yet she could actually find herself in an even tougher financial bind. As her wages go up, her children may no longer qualify for Head Start preschool. The family may lose Medicaid benefits. Her federal income taxes increase.
At a luncheon with members of the Sarasota and Manatee chambers of commerce, Wilson discussed the Florida Chamber’s launch of an initiative to tackle such quandaries and improve the quality of life for the state’s most income-challenged workers.
“This is not a partisan issue,” Wilson said. The Florida Chamber is urging every community — local chambers, business and civic leaders, county commissions — to examine how they can address poverty and the ills associated with it on the local level.
“What if everybody got on the same page with the same goal?” Wilson asked.
That goal is not to ensure “equal outcomes” for all Floridians, Wilson stressed. Disparities in incomes will always exist. The goal, he said, is to achieve “equal access to opportunity.”
The first step, he said, is to “raise awareness.”