Bradenton Herald, February 17, 2017
By Mark Wilson
As the 16th-largest economy in the world, creating one out of every 10 jobs in America, Florida is moving in the right direction.
Florida adds more than 1,000 new residents each day, and they add $879,000 in income every hour. This is the Florida many know – one that’s prosperous, creating jobs and economic opportunity.
Yet, there is a different reality for many Floridians. The state’s poverty rate for those under 18 is 23.4 percent – that’s 944,415 children living in poverty. More than 3 million Floridians are on food stamps and more than 57 percent of Florida’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. More than 40,000 students between Pre-K and fifth grade are homeless.
Florida has led the way in economic growth and opportunity. We can and must do more to break the cycle of generational poverty by focusing on creating opportunities for all Floridians, especially those born into poverty.
The way forward has four components:
- First, business leaders can only help solve challenges if they know about them. TheFloridaScorecard.org provides essential county-by-county metrics that illuminate key data points like third-grade reading scores (only 54 percent of Florida’s third-graders are reading at grade level or above), the percentage of children eligible for free and reduced meals, and more. Please help the Florida Chamber educate everyone on the millions of Floridians who need economic and educational opportunities.
- Second, we need to recognize that, in many cases, government entitlement programs often do more harm than good, unintentionally creating a system of dependency that keeps people trapped in poverty and unable to get out. The Florida Chamber believes social safety nets are necessary, as poverty resulting from setbacks like the loss of a job or home foreclosures will always exist. However, their goal should be to act as a lifeline, not create a lifestyle of reliance on government assistance. Government should encourage earned success for job-seekers and unshackle private-sector employers rather than perpetuate permanent support.
- Third, we must ensure all Floridians have access to high-quality education that equips learners – especially young learners – with the relevant skills needed to excel in the modern, changing workforce. Rigorous standards in Florida’s classrooms will help keep educators accountable while also helping students develop necessary lifelong skills.
Florida Chamber Foundation research indicates within five years, 65 percent of all job openings in the U.S. will require at least some post-secondary education. From middle skills to high-tech skills, Florida wins when we prepare students to succeed on a global stage and ensure students have access to affordable post-secondary education through grants and scholarship programs. These steps will help bridge the “talent gap” between the requirements of employers and their 287,000 unfilled jobs and the current skill-set of Florida’s growing workforce.
- Finally, we must address the problems related to government inefficiencies such as legislator inaction on the $1.5 billion workers’ comp increase and a broken legal climate that adds a $3,400 lawsuit tax to families who can least afford it. When Florida’s businesses and communities have to foot the bill for these added costs, it disproportionately affects Florida’s neediest and most vulnerable families.
The way forward is not easy, but we must keep the conversation going and fight for solutions. This is one reason the Florida Chamber Foundation is bringing leaders together for our 2017 Prosperity Summit on May 10 in Tampa.
The Florida Chamber views the challenge of creating the opportunity for economic prosperity for all Floridians as one of economic and moral significance. If our state’s business and government leaders work together, putting politics aside, we can end generational poverty and put Floridians back to work and on the way to achieving their utmost potential.
When Florida wins, America wins.
Mark Wilson is the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.