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Poverty in Florida

Updated on December 12, 2015


Poverty spreads like a disease: It weakens the strong, sickens the healthy, and exhausts the resilient. Yet if this is the case, why is poverty so highly neglected? In Florida alone poverty directly affects over 13.1% of its population, placing it as the 21st highest of 50 states in this category (American Community Survey, 2003). Who are among the most severely affected? Low-wage workers, children, the elderly, and the homeless.

Low-wage workers

Data from 2000 until 2005

Because Florida is a state inundated with tourist-related economy, it demands an unusually high percentage of low-wage jobs, which account for approximately 9.5% of Florida's workforce (Nissen & Wolf, 2005). How is this detrimental? Nearly all low-wage workers are unable to afford adequate housing. In fact, a single low-wage worker is unable to afford an efficiency apartment without a bedroom, and 46% - 70% of rental families are unable to afford the most basic, family-appropriate rental units. To complicate the problem, most low-wage workers are unable to independently purchase health insurance coverage, and practically three quarters are not provided with health insurance coverage by their employer (Nissen & Wolf, 2005).


Children are among the most vulnerable- especially those living in single female headed households. 2000 U.S. Census figures reveal that while only 9% of all families live in poverty, nearly 32.0% of single female headed households with children ages 0 -17 live in poverty, and approximately 44.6% of single female headed households with children under 5 live in poverty. In addition, many of them are primarily dependent upon welfare benefits in order to provide adequate care, but due to recent welfare reforms, welfare benefits for these households are much more difficult to access (Lyter, Sills & Gi-Taik Oh, 2002).

The Elderly and Disabled

According to the 2004 American Community Survey, 9.7% of Florida's elderly (65 years and over) live in poverty. Because many elderly are incapable of working or adequately providing for themselves, they must rely on the government for medical assistance- But most have inadequate or no medical coverage whatsoever. In fact, only 9.2% of Florida's elderly have medicaid coverage (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). How does this affect the living conditions of the elderly poor and what alternatives must they seek? Many of the elderly poor rely on emergency treatment at clinics, hospital emergency rooms or private physicians, but these services are often inappropriate and expensive. Consequentially, these alternatives only serve to worsen the situation, and press the remainder of elderly poor to live without medical assistance.


On any given day, there are an estimated 83,931 persons living homeless in Florida (Pierce, 2005). Why? Among the major causes is the devastating impact of the 2004 hurricanes, which destroyed over 20,000 homes and caused major damage to over 45,000 rental units. This alone left over 17,800 people homeless and increased burden to Florida's already limited housing stock (Pierce, 2005). Those with disabilities or special needs, who are unable to adequately access needed services and support, are among the greatest victims: less than 10% actually receive services from a Department of Children and Families service provider.


"The harsh reality of America's present economic system is that, without substantial and effective government intervention, people will go hungry; families will be homeless; mothers and children will be without basic health care," testified Joseph M. Sullivan to the Congressional Committee. "Government must bear a large share of the burden." Florida can no longer continue to neglect its citizens, and must take action to overcome poverty. The U.S. Treasury affirms that while Florida has made progress in attempts to improve Aid to Families with Dependent Children payments, moving from 49th to 45th of the 50 states, it has dropped from 36th to 38th of the 50 states in Child Welfare Services, and remains 49th of the 50 states in Medicaid coverage. So far, it appears that Florida's attempts have been woefully inadequate. When will this unnatural state of living be eradicated?


Bruce Nissen and Jen Wolfe Borum (2005). Working Poverty: Low Wage Workers in Florida. Miami, FL.: Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy.

U.S. Census Bureau (2000). Retrieved June 05, 2006 (

American Community Survey (2003, 2004). Retrieved June 05, 2006 (

Deanna M Lyter, Melissa Sills, and Gi-Taik Oh (2002). Children in Single-Parent Families Living in Poverty Have Fewer Supports after Welfare Reform. Institute for Women's Policy Research.

The Florida Catholic Conference (1983). Poverty in Florida. Retrieved June 05, 2006 (

Florida Coalition for the Homeless (2002). Why Floridians are Homeless. Retrieved June 05, 2006 (

Tom Pierce (2005). Annual Report on Homeless Conditions in Florida. Tallahassee, FL.: Office on Homelessness.

Literature dealing with the issues of poverty

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