A five-year, $170 million investment plan to reduce poverty and stimulate job growth in South St. Pete is “exceeding expectations,” according to a midyear progress report released by the Pinellas County Urban League this June.
The city- and county-backed project is called the 2020 Plan — named after its expected completion year — and it’s being hailed as the most aggressive poverty reduction effort ever attempted in the State of Florida.
The newly released report measures progress associated with each of the 2020 Plan’s individual goals. Together, these goals are aimed at accomplishing one main, ambitious end-result: moving the needle, or reducing poverty, in South St. Pete by 30 percent, come the year 2020.
The plan is currently six months in.
Treating Causes, Not Symptoms
Historically, the predominantly black neighborhoods of South St. Pete have been one of the most impoverished areas of Pinellas County. Recent research published by the Pinellas County Urban League points to two main causes of this poverty: black population growth and an overall inability for black men to penetrate the workforce.
During the years in which St. Petersburg’s black poverty rate was trending down — which was between 1990 and 2005, roughly — the poverty population was on the rise due to an advanced growth in the city’s African-American population.
As far as black men not penetrating the workforce goes, despite earning over 4,900 diplomas and degrees since 2000, black men lost ground in the labor force, as well as in their employment shares, earnings and job ranks.
“The number of black men in poverty nearly doubled from 2000 to 2012,” the 2020 Plan research stated. “Which accounted for – by some census data – 100 percent of the increase in African-Americans in poverty during prime career-building years, [which are between the] ages of 18 and 44.”
The 2020 Plan research goes on to pinpoint how much taxpayers spend each year to combat poverty in South St. Petersburg: $670 million per year. However, the research contends that the large majority of those taxpayer dollars — 93 percent to be exact — go to managing poverty, while only 7 percent go toward preventing or reducing poverty.
The 2020 Plan, however, is dedicating all of its efforts to preventing and reducing poverty, and doing it with a long-term picture in mind.
Poverty Reduction to Date
When the plan kicked off, the percentage of people living at or below the poverty line in South St. Pete was 21.8 percent. The goal by 2020 was to see that figure fall to 15.3 percent — a 30 percent overall drop. So far, through the 2020 Plan’s various individual programs, a 5 percent decrease has already been realized — a slightly higher figure than was expected thus far.
The tangible result: 27 South St. Pete residents who were previously living below the poverty line have risen above it.
Micro Goals Exceeding Expectations
Six months into the 2020 Plan, a handful of smaller goals set by the plan’s Task Force are also ahead of schedule.
Twenty-four employers throughout South St. Pete have seen their revenue and workforce grow. That’s 4.5 percent of the 540 employers the 2020 Plan hopes to help come 2020 — a percentage expected to increase every six months, as word spreads, more businesses are reached out to, and previous businesses continue to grow.
Roughly 60 more employers are currently in talks with 2020 Plan Task Force members regarding revenue and job growth.
Of the 1,000 people the 2020 Plan aims to have enrolled in skills training by 2017 — in order to increase individual earnings — 2.5 percent have already enrolled. An additional 12 percent, or roughly 120 people, are currently in the process of enrolling; 1 percent of the 2020 Plan’s goal to increase the collective community worker and community business income has also already been realized. And while 1 percent looks small, it equates to nearly $2 million in raised income over the past six months ($1,861,287 to be exact).
The total income of South St. Pete community workers and businesses came in at $1.8 billion. The 2020 Plan aims to increase that figure to $1.97 billion by 2020.
The 2020 Plan goal experiencing the most success so far is the youth employment rate. 62 percent of 200 youth that the 2020 Plan hoped to find employment for in 2015 have already attained steady work. This equates to 172 individuals under the age of 18 who live in South St. Pete having jobs.
So far, $1,203,092 has been raised by the 2020 Plan’s Task Force for “vital services,” like employment services, business capital and development services and faith community organizations, among others. An additional $4,355,00 is currently in the pipeline. By 2020, the 2020 Plan Task Force hopes to bring those totals up to $78 million.
“These results have nothing to do with how efficient or how wonderful we are,” said 2020 Plan Task Force member Gypsy Gallardo, who has been called the creative genius behind the plan. “We can take credit for being courageous, but it’s the people [donating the money] who move the needle.”