Florida’s economy is one of the United States’ economic powerhouses. It currently has the third-largest population in the U.S. and has the fourth-biggest economy.
On paper, the diverse economy is thriving, with tourism and agriculture leading to a GDP that would rank Florida 17th in the world — larger than most countries. But a closer look shows that Florida’s economic prosperity narrows across geographic regions.
Florida, like many states across the nation, has a poverty problem that it can’t deny. According to the Florida Fiscal Cliffs Report, nearly one in seven Floridians live in poverty — over 15 percent of the population, or over 3 million people. While that number is on par with the national average, a closer look sheds light on a recurring cycle that is disproportionately affecting youth in the state. Nearly one in four Florida children live in poverty — more than 870,000 kids under the age of 18.
While the problem persists across the state, the issue is exacerbated in certain areas.
In demographic hotbeds like Miami, Orlando and Tallahassee, generation poverty intensifies. Miami-Dade County alone accounts for 15% of all children living in poverty, while the west side of Tallahassee is home to one the poorest ZIP codes in the state.
While the government’s response to combat this epidemic tends to include social safety nets and welfare programs that places a burden on Florida taxpayers, a new initiative from the state’s leading business-advocacy group may be the key to breaking the endless loop.
The Florida Prosperity Initiative, developed by Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson and former House Speaker Will Weatherford, is tackling the issue of generational poverty in the state. The initiative, which will utilize businesses and the power of free enterprise, aims to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 50% over the next 10 years, according to the Florida 2030 blueprint.
The project, spearheaded by Director Michael Williams, seeks to highlights organizations and business leaders around the state who are playing a major part in defeating issues such as homelessness, access to health and other poverty-related problems.
Williams, a former political insider, says that businesses play an integral role in this process.
“The Florida Prosperity Initiative has a mission of uniting Florida’s business community to be leaders in reducing childhood poverty. The data tells us where these kids are at a zip code level. Businesses small and large can have an impact in their own zip code, but many don’t know the problem exists or don’t know how they can help,” said Williams, Director of the Florida Prosperity Initiative”
“By shedding light on the issue and what existing promising practices already exist, we will achieve our goal; by the year 2030 to cut the number of children living in poverty in half and to create a pathway to prosperity for every Floridian.”
Williams is no stranger to helping others. The Tallahassee native has a wealth of experience that spans across multiple enterprises, including missionary work, public service and private-sector leadership.
The chamber will host a Business Leaders Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity from May 19-20, with the initiative headlining the event with a presentation on ways to defeat the growing problem that plagues Florida’s youth.