Paycheck to paycheck

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor,

Poverty levels should no longer be the basis for how communities target resources to improve the socioeconomics for residents living in distressed communities.

ALICE, an acronym standing for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, is a study commissioned by the United Way aimed to identify the millions of Floridians that work hard and who are above the poverty line but because of the extraordinary cost of living and the many socioeconomic factors beyond our control, we live from paycheck to paycheck.

I often find myself in meetings where individuals are condemning the payday loan industry. There are claims that the interest rates are predatory and make poor people poorer. I beg to differ and the ALICE report supports my theory.

Hard working people, particularly those in African-American communities, frequent payday loans because in spite of their hard work the realities of their income and the cost of living force many into simply living from pay check to pay check. Because of the economic disparity, coupled with health disparities, one emergency can destabilize an individual or a family really quickly.

According to ALICE, the bare minimum annual budget for a single adult is $19,128. The single adult in my household with a college degree’s annual income is $23,000, leaving an estimated $3,000 for savings and an investment barring the car doesn’t break down, there are no health emergencies or any other emergencies.

The bare minimum income for a family with two adults, one infant and a preschooler is $57,996. According to the ALICE report, a combined 60 percent of African Americans live at the poverty level or at the ALICE level in the state of Florida.

In Pinellas County in 2015, 87 percent of the households in Pinellas County were living in poverty or at the ALICE level, and in St. Petersburg, 103,788 or 42 percent of individuals were living in poverty or at the ALICE level.

Sadly, the ALICE report concludes that even though there has been positive economic growth in the state of Florida, the reality is that the number of residents who are poor or who live at the ALICE threshold has barely decreased by 0.5 percent.

This is why when communities aim to establish redevelopment efforts in distressed communities such as Midtown and attempt to develop place-based strategies to address poverty, the baseline can’t just take into account the poverty level.

To engage communities and stakeholders in meaningful redevelopment conversations and activities demands a convening of individuals that go beyond community folk with wish lists. As a community stakeholder, we most often come to the table with a “what’s in it for me” mentality.

We often times do not have the background nor the interests to understand the various linkages necessary for rebuilding communities. While it is imperative that the needs of the community folks remain at the center of the discussion and activities, those needs must be evaluated and framed in the context of a private sector reality, the people who will bring the jobs.

We may want to see a grocery store in Tangerine Plaza because that meets our personal needs, but if a Walmart or a Sweetbay, whose bottom lines were not met meaning their profit margins   are not realized, they simply will not stay. Convening folks to talk about what they want to see in the Tangerine Plaza becomes a moot point as our history has shown us without the stakeholders who can bring the jobs.

Maria Scruggs

Maria Scruggs

We must stop pulling community folks into meetings to talk about their wishes. Convening to engage communities in economic and community development activities must engage business people. We must engage scholars who study trends. We must engage bankers, and yes, we must engage the not for profit sector. However, we must not confuse the role of the not for profit sector as the healer of what ails black folks money problems.

The same thing that heals other ethnic groups economic struggles are the same thing that heals black folks economic struggles—money earned from livable wages!

Maria L. Scruggs,
President, St. Petersburg NAACP

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