Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Poverty among Central Florida's Hispanics rose from 2000 to 2005

Babita Persaud:

One in five Hispanics in the seven-county area was living below the poverty line -- 20 percent were poor in 2005 compared with 17 percent five years previously, figures show. That adds up to more than 108,600 people.

By comparison, the number of poor blacks in Central Florida dropped from 25 percent in 2000 to 21 percent last year, equivalent to just more than 95,000 people.

Among whites, poverty has remained the same at 8 percent -- nearly 184,500 people in Orange, Seminole, Brevard, Lake, Osceola, Volusia and Polk counties.

"In my 20 years in Orlando, I have never seen so many homeless among Hispanics," said Marytza Sanz, president of Latino Leadership.

A misconception is that poor Hispanics are illegal immigrants, Sanz said.

"These are U.S. citizens trying to survive," she said.

The federal government defines the average poverty threshold at a little less than $20,000 for a family of four and just under $10,000 for an individual.

Other than the elderly, children younger than 5 were the biggest group of those living under the poverty line in Central Florida last year: 15,089 black children, 16,277 Hispanic children and 12,837 white children.

"Traditionally, it has been mostly adults, but now we are seeing more homeless families, people living in their cars," said Carmen Hernandez, a supervisor with Catholic Social Services of Central Florida.

Sanz remembers parents at a recent community fair, eager to receive free backpacks for their children.

"If you listen to the people, they are saying, 'We are going through a tough time,' " Sanz said.

Dave Krepcho, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank, said many of the people in the statistics would be described as the "working poor."

Nationally, poverty rates remained statistically unchanged for blacks -- 24.9 percent -- and for Hispanics, 21.8 percent. One reason Hispanics seem to be doing worse in Central Florida than nationally is their dependence on low-paying service jobs that make up so much of the local economy, Krepcho said.

The national poverty rate among all groups remained the same at 12.6 percent. The census found 37 million people living in poverty in 2005 -- 7.7 million of those in families, a slight drop from 2004.

Among children the poverty rate was 17.6 percent, and as in years past, it remains greater than the poverty rate of people older than 65. Among seniors, the poverty rate climbed from 3.5 million in 2004 to 3.6 million in 2005.

Tuesday's announcement came from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, which is conducted every year and are estimates based on sample surveys, as compared with the population count of every decade.

Among other national findings:

Median household income rose by 1 percent between 2004 and 2005, reaching $46,326. Among racial groups, median income remained statistically unchanged, with black households having the lowest median income in 2005 at $30,858; Asians had the highest at $61,094 and Hispanics had $35,967. Among whites, the median income was $50,784.

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