First-ever countywide equity assessment spotlights need for change

Black youth, as well as all people of color, need fair and equitable access to education and other opportunities to succeed.

 

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County is changing. It’s becoming more diverse. To prosper and succeed, the county must overcome racial discrimination and invest in its communities of color.

A recently released 2019 Pinellas Equity Profile revealed a number of eye-opening statistics tied to income and racial bias. Low-income residents and people of color aren’t treated the same as higher wage earners and whites, and that comes at a high price.

Racial inequities are evident in employment, income, wealth, education, health, justice, housing and transportation.

“The success and prosperity of Pinellas County will rely on dismantling these unjust barriers and ensuring that everyone can participate and enjoy the benefits of a thriving economy,” said UNITE Pinellas Executive Director Tim Dutton.

UNITE Pinellas is comprised of a group of organizations with a common mission to increase income and race equity through change.

The goal is increased awareness and elimination of ingrained prejudices that keep residents with low income and people of color from reaching economic and social success. The benefit would not only be a “world that is just and fair,” according to the profile foreword.

“The research in this profile estimates that our local economy would be $3.6 billion larger if there were no income inequities.”

More than 350 community leaders attended a breakfast presentation April 18 at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater in St. Petersburg to discuss the first-ever countywide equity assessment. Attendees listened to highlights of the report before discussing strategies they believe could help reduce inequities in Pinellas.

Plans call for using the profile to identify areas that need more study while looking at policies, institutional practices and “narratives” related to those areas. The objective is to find solutions by getting people affected by inequities to work together with those who make policy and institute practices.

“Strategies for impacting systems will rely on the wisdom and co-creation of those people most impacted by the policies, practices and blame narratives that perpetuate inequity,” Dutton said.

Pinellas County Commission Chair Karen Seel and commissioners Charlie Justice and Ken Welch attended the April 18 breakfast. During the April 23 commission meeting, Seel said the county had received praise for its affordable housing programs and the number of units produced over the years, which she said was significantly more than comparable programs.

She also said she found the profile “fascinating and daunting.”

“We have some heavy lifts and hard work ahead of us,” Seel said.

About the profile

An Equity Profile of Pinellas County examines demographic trends and indicators of equitable growth, highlighting strengths and areas of vulnerability in relation to the goal of building a stronger, more inclusive county.

The profile was developed by PolicyLink, the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the University of Southern California in consultation with UNITE Pinellas.

Profile highlights

Pinellas County’s ethnic diversity is not as great as the rest of Florida. Three-quarters of residents are white and one-quarter are black, Latinx, Asian or mixed/other, according to the equity profile. Statewide, 56% of residents are white and 44% are people of color.

Latinx is a gender-neutral term that is used as an alternative to Latino/a. The U.S. Census Bureau uses Hispanic or Latino to refer to "a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race."

The profile shows that Pinellas is slowly becoming more diverse, albeit more slowly than in other parts of the nation.

The Latinx population is projected to increase to 22% by 2050, Asian to 8%, black to 15 percent and mixed/other to 5%. The percentage of white residents is expected to decrease to 50%.

The profile says the county needs to make bigger investments in communities of color, which are primarily located in south St. Petersburg, downtown Clearwater and Highpoint.

Young people are leading the “demographic shift.” Only 11% of seniors, age 65 or older, are people of color compared to 41% of those under age 18.

A greater emphasis is needed to ensure people of color have sufficient workforce education and training. The profile says by 2020, 41% of all jobs in the state will require an associate’s degree or higher. Currently, only 32% of working-age Latinx people and 28% of African Americans in Pinellas have the required level of education compared to 44% of whites and 50% of Asians.

People of color face many challenges that need to be addressed, such as higher unemployment and lower wages, especially for blacks and Latinx, including those with the same education levels.

More than one in four black residents live in poverty, compared to 12% of white residents. Poverty rates for other people of color also are “significantly” higher.

People of color are more likely to experience economic hardship and experience inequities related to employment, income, wealth, education, health, justice, housing and transportation.

The profile outlines a number of changes that need to occur via public policy, institutional practices and by shifting perceptions.

“The public, private and nonprofit sectors are already taking steps to generate educational employment and economic opportunities targeted at residents with low income,” the profile concluded. “To secure a prosperous future, Pinellas County needs to implement a growth model that is driven by equity — just and fair inclusion into a society in which everyone can participate and prosper.”

To download the 81-page equity profile and for more information, visit UNITEPinellas.org.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.