Latest report on ‘survival’ household income in Sarasota County underscores need for policy discussion on economic incentives, commissioners indicate

United Way Suncoast joins sister nonprofits in reporting on household incomes

This is the cover of the 2018 ALICE report from the United Ways in Florida. Image courtesy United Way Suncoast

The median household income Sarasota County in 2016 was $54,989, the United Way Suncoast has reported. Yet, the “survival budget” for a family of two adults, one infant and one prekindergarten-age child that year was $62,040 in Sarasota County.

For a single adult, the survival budget was $22,236, the United Way Suncoast says.

Released in February, the information — which focuses on the latest data available — was part of the ALICE findings (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) for the 11 counties in the United Way Suncoast’s area. It is part of a statewide initiative, the nonprofit explains on its website.

ALICE households are those “earning above the poverty line but not enough to cover the most basic needs,” the United Way Suncoast points out, adding that “across the board increases in everything from child care to health care continue to plague a family’s ability to save or prepare for unexpected financial setbacks, even when working a 40-hour-a-week-job.”

Across Florida, the cost of household basics rose 12% for a single adult and 20% for a family of four from 2010 to 2016, the United Way Suncoast says. “At the same time earnings increased only 13 percent in Florida but the national inflation rate was just 9 percent.”

Thirty-eight percent of the households in Sarasota County in 2016 were struggling to pay for basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and technology, according to the United Way Suncoast report.

Still, that figure was a decline from the 44% mark in 2010, according to the report.

Along with Sarasota, the United Way Suncoast counties are Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk.

Out of that group, Sarasota County had the lowest percentage of households below the ALICE threshold in 2016, the report pointed out.

In 2010, the number of ALICE households in Sarasota County was 54,588, the report said; for 2016, the figure had dropped to 49,696.

This chart compares data from 2010 and 2016. Image courtesy United Way Suncoast

The report added that 9% of Sarasota County households were below the poverty level in 2016.

The United Way Suncoast report also showed that of the 163,030 households in Sarasota County in 2010, 16,547 were in poverty. Six years later, the total number of households had risen to 176,191, the report said, but the number of those in poverty had fallen to 16,424.

These are details about household expenses for a Sarasota County family in the new ALICE report. Image courtesy of the United Ways of Florida

Among other data in the statewide ALICE report are the following, the United Way Suncoast says:

  • “Unemployment is falling, but low-wage/entry level jobs dominate the employment landscape.
  • “67 percent of all jobs in Florida pay less than $20 an hour.
  • “Florida is seeing an increase in contract and ‘gig’ jobs (gig economy) contributing to less financial stability for residents.
  • “Wage gaps are increasing in some areas.
  • “Some 47 percent of Floridians don’t have money set aside to cover expenses for 3 months in case of an emergency.
  • “An aging workforce is having an impact,” leading to increased caregiving; more multigenerational households, with most residents under 25 unable to afford to live on their own; and the continuing increase in health care costs.

Factoring the figures into policy

This is another graphic in the latest ALICE report regarding Sarasota County data. Image courtesy of the United Ways of Florida

On April 23, Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert brought up the ALICE survival budget for a family of four in Sarasota County as she and her colleagues talked about the county’s economic incentives program.

The $62,040 figure was provided during a meeting the previous day of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Detert added. Yet, “We’re offering incentives … and [the companies are] giving us … $48,000-a-year jobs.”

She reiterated a point she and other commissioners made on April 10: The board members need to have an in-depth discussion about whether to change the county’s incentives policy.

Earlier, Chair Charles Hines had made the same point.

Staff is working on a date for that workshop, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis told the board members on April 23.

The comments this week came as county administrative staff provided the commissioners updates on priorities they set for this year. Lewis reminded them that Rob Lewis, the county’s director of governmental relations, had shown them a draft on April 10 of a matrix designed “to get at the heart of how we’re tracking [the county’s economic development incentives], working from internal information and with the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) of Sarasota County.

The matrix, Jonathan Lewis added, will be “a very clear report that gets at real numbers.”

“Rob’s dong a great job getting us the information,” Hines said. (Rob Lewis assumed authority over the county’s incentives program at the start of the current fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2018.)

This is the website banner of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. Image from the website

Nonetheless, Hines continued, with the possibility the commission might change its policy, the EDC staff is unsure how to proceed with using the incentives as a tool to try to draw companies to the county.

That was all the more reason, Hines indicated, that he would like to have the discussion as soon as possible.