Pinellas County’s economy could have been $3.6 billion stronger in 2016 if racial gaps in income were closed.
That’s the bottom line finding of the 2019 Pinellas Equity Profile, released Thursday by UnitePinellas, a collective of county leaders.
The profile includes about 45 data points to increase awareness of how inequity plays out in Pinellas County. It also defines and launches an agenda designed to create a more inclusive county.
There’s a strong correlation with race, and a need to pay special attention to the capabilities of neighborhoods with people of color, said Tim Dutton, executive director of UnitePinellas.
“If the brilliance and the power and the ability of those who have been held out of the economy, who have been pushed to the margins of the economy by current and historic policies and practices, if all those skills were to be included and connected, the local economy would be greater,” Dutton said. “There would be better health, greater civic engagement and greater trust in the community as a whole.”
Other data points he highlighted include:
Demographics. Like the rest of the United States, Pinellas County will have a majority population of people of color by 2050. “This impacts employment, business and education,” Dutton said. “How is it we prepare our employers so the work environment is supportive of a diverse work force?”
Median hourly wage. It’s significantly lower for blacks and Latinx than the rest of the workforce, and no racial or ethnic group has a median wage high enough to be called a living wage for a family of one adult and two children in the county.
Stable housing. In 2016, there were nearly 4,000 evictions in Pinellas County. Displacement from a stable home disconnects people from social, educational and occupational resources, and disrupts the social fabric of a community, the report said.
Evictions can be addressed by change in policy, Dutton said. “At the eviction hearing, tenants are often not represented and landlords are represented by counsel,” he said. “That’s a major issue. New York City said we’re not going to let that happen any more, and all tenants are represented by counsel at an eviction hearing.”
New policies are one way to increase equity, as are changes in institutional practices and the narrative, or the intrinsic stories we tell ourselves, said Dutton and Anand Subramanian, managing director of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute. The National Equity Atlas, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), produced the equity profile.
PolicyLink worked closely with city officials in San Francisco to forgive all criminal justice fee debts in the city, which raised revenue on the backs of people who can’t afford it and is essentially a poverty tax. The organization now is working to scale what they accomplished in San Francisco into a nationwide initiative, Subramanian said.
Institutional practices also perpetuate disparities and inequities. “One example is the practice of subprime mortgages that disproportionally impacted families of color 10 years ago. Now, there’s recent evidence of more of the same kind of thing going on,” Dutton said. He cited a recent article in The Atlantic that looked at African-Americans who live in neighborhoods that were decimated by subprime lending are and are now being targeted with new predatory loan offerings.
Changing the narrative is a third approach to increased equity. Common assumptions such as “If you work hard you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “All Latinx people are immigrants” perpetuate stereotypes and are not true, Subramanian said.
“This is about systems change,” said Kanika Tomalin, St. Petersburg deputy mayor and city administrator. “The data we see is the result of decades of a system that was designed to produce exactly what we see – if we are to see something different we need to create a new machine.”
Tomalin was one of four panelists who offered their own thoughts on how to address the issues in the report. See highlights from the panel discussion in the gallery below.
“Let’s imagine there won’t be another day we wake up and equity isn’t on the front of everyone’s mind,” said Randy Russell, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg. “The status quo is where we are. Disruption is required. That doesn’t mean nasty. It just means not the same.”
The Pinellas Equity Profile is posted online here. There will be an online dashboard that keeps the data up to date, Russell said.