SARASOTA–As construction crews hammer away and tourists pour into new restaurants in Sarasota County's brisk rebound from the Great Recession, one segment of the population is being left behind, according to a new statewide report.
The share of children living in poverty continued to rise in Florida from 2008 to 2014, affecting a quarter of the state’s residents from birth to 18 years, according to national numbers. The latest annual report by Florida KIDS COUNT funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, blames this in part on high housing costs that consume one third or more of monthly income and a lack of secure employment for parents.
The report takes a county by county snapshot of the status of Florida children and measures child well-being in domains including: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
Many of Sarasota County's numbers mirrored those of the state overall.
Compared to Florida, the number of Sarasota County children living in poverty is slightly more encouraging but remains high at 18.2 percent. And about half of the County’s kids enrolled in public schools are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program, slightly lower than Florida's numbers. In 2014, a family of two adults and two children were considered living in poverty if their income fell below $24,008.
Only about 6 percent of Sarasota County children, compared to about 15 percent for the state, live in areas of concentrated poverty. Almost half of them are black, even though the black community comprises only 5 percent of the overall population. The trend is similar with Latino communities: a third in both County and State numbers live in such areas.
“We would really like people to take away that we are a diverse state already. We talk about majority-minority states and for kids it’s already here. We also know they may not have the same opportunities. We have to make sure that all kids in Florida have the opportunity to thrive. If we’re thinking about contributing to the future economic engine, we need to make the investment in care,” said Dr. Norin Dollard, research assistant professor and director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Florida KIDS COUNT project at the University of South Florida.
Room for improvement in education
Although County children have a slightly higher rate of graduation than the state average, more than half of the 4TH grade students are not proficient in English language arts and math.
Also, nearly 30 percent of Sarasota County’s third graders are reading below grade-level, according to the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
Absenteeism, closely linked to access to health care, still affects 10 percent of Florida’s students, compared to 7 percent of the County’s students.
Improvements in health, but Florida still lags behind
Florida has the most work to do where health is concerned, as it ranks 47 out of the 50 states. Still, Florida continues to improve on all of its health indicators. Compared to 2008, in 2014 there were fewer low birthweight babies being born, more children with health insurance, fewer child and teen deaths, and fewer adolescents abusing alcohol and drugs.
In Sarasota County, the percentage of children without health insurance coverage is slightly higher at 11.3 versus 11.2 percent and there were fewer low birthweight babies born.
Almost half of the County's teenagers used alcohol or illicit drugs in 2014.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is the nation's leading research nonprofit tracking the health and well-being of children and families. Its annual report, now in its 16th year, provides a child and family-focused analysis of U.S. Census data and economic indicators for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The 2016 report relies mostly on 2014 data, the most recent available information from the Census Bureau.