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Addressing Gainesville’s Income Gap


Written By: Erica Brown

COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS LOOK TO ADDRESS LOCAL INCOME DISPARITY

Gainesville has one of the nation’s largest income gaps, and in the view of various local business, education and social services leaders, that reality needs to change.

THE NUMBERS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
• Gainesville’s income gap is the fifth largest in the country, following Atlanta, New Orleans, Miami and Jackson, Mississippi, Bloomberg News reported.
• Average pay ranges from a minimum wage of $15,080 annually to more than $200,000 annually for physicians, according to the Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
• The average family income in the western part of the county is $82,000, nearly double the $45,000 average in the eastern part of the county, according to the research firm Esri.
• The Gainesville area average pay of $19.50 an hour ($40,560 annually) is below the statewide average of $21.73 ($45,188 annually).

Many Gainesville area residents can barely make ends meet and have no savings, meaning they easily get behind if they have an unexpected expense from a broken-down car or an illness in the family.

Professionals with advanced-degree jobs are sometimes also affected by the income gap.

“I know of many school teachers who have second jobs,” said Laurie Porter, development coordinator at Catholic Charities. “People with master’s degrees use our food bank.”

MAKING A DIFFERENCE
The efforts to improve opportunities focus on education, mentoring and job creation.

“The current state is unacceptable,” said Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “The community must move in an inclusive manner.”

The City of Gainesville is on board with the initiatives, and the city commission has made workforce development one of its strategic initiatives.

The city’s efforts might include job-related programs at the Empowerment Center — the former Gainesville Correctional Institution where the Grace Marketplace is now located, said Erik Bredfeldt, the city’s economic development director.

Additional efforts include putting residents of the Gainesville Housing Authority to work maintaining the authority’s units and helping them go into business for themselves.

Executive Director, Pamela Davis, is employing residents to turn around vacant apartments, making them responsible for cleaning, painting and making repairs.

Santa Fe College is helping train the residents in these skills. After the training period, some of the residents have gone on to start their own companies.

Thirteen such companies are performing work for the housing authority as well as other customers. In addition, two residents have opened small stores in housing authority buildings.

“We’re knocking down doors, helping people improve their self-esteem and providing them with hope,” Davis said. “Our goal is for residents to transition out and become homeowners.”

ADDRESSING CHILDCARE COSTS
The Early Learning Coalition helps parents afford childcare by providing subsidies through a combination of federal and state funding as well as local donations.

The coalition provided assistance to Danielle Richardson and her husband, Xavier, when their first daughter, Halle, was born in July 2009. Both of the Richardsons were still attending UF.

The coalition paid most of the tuition at the Holy Trinity Episcopal School in downtown Gainesville, reducing the family’s bill to $50 to $70 a month.

“It was phenomenal to have this help at a time when we needed it,” Danielle said. “It was a godsend.”

The Richardsons’ second daughter, Chelsea, was born in 2013, and the couple was no longer eligible for a childcare subsidy. Danielle now works as an adjuster at Nationwide Insurance’s regional office in Gainesville, and Xavier is an admissions counselor at UF.

“We’re able to pay full tuition for childcare for Chelsea,” Danielle said. “We’re grateful that ELC made it possible for us to continue our education by assisting us with our first child.

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