Media Highlights

Wages slow Palm Beach County progress

by The Palm Beach Post   •  
Weak wages, high crime rates and unaffordable housing are among the challenges to social mobility in Palm Beach County.

That’s according to a study by Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan group of 350 businesses, nonprofits and schools, and the nonprofit Measure of America. On their “Opportunity Index,” which grades counties and states on economic, educational and civic factors, the groups gave Palm Beach County a C+.

Wage stagnation is especially pronounced in Palm Beach County, according to the groups’ calculations. While inflation-adjusted household incomes fell 4.2 percent nationally from 2011 to 2015, they plunged 9.8 percent in Palm Beach County.

“The economic gains simply are not accruing evenly,” said Russell Krumnow, managing director of Opportunity Nation. “Median wages are stagnant or have fallen back.” 

Crime is another trouble spot in Palm Beach County. The Opportunity Index counts 502.9 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in Palm Beach County, well above the national average of 387.8 violent crimes.

Meanwhile, affordable housing has returned as a challenge for Palm Beach County residents. Only 54.6 percent of Palm Beach County residents spend less than 30 percent of their income on housing. Nationally, 65.4 percent of households fall into that category.

Gessie Joseph, a Palm Beach County nursing home worker, said she can barely afford her $1,000-a-month rent on her low-wage paycheck, let alone save for a house.

“I would like to, but I can’t,” Joseph said.

The county’s housing squeeze has emerged as an issue for such business leaders as Kelly Smallridge, head of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. Smallridge recruits employers to the county, and while she said companies don’t seem concerned about the county’s crime rate, the lack of affordable housing poses a barrier.

“It’s really hard for a young college grad to find housing here,” Smallridge said.

She acknowledged that the housing squeeze is just one challenge for a county that has added hundreds of thousands of residents in recent decades.

“Palm Beach County is no longer that small town I grew up in,” Smallridge said. “We’re going through some growing pains.”

For all of its problems, Palm Beach County performs well on other measures, such as the qualifications of the work force. For instance, 40.6 percent of adults in the county have an associate’s degree or higher, compared with only 37.7 percent of Americans.

The county’s poverty rate of 14.5 percent is well below the national rate of 15.8 percent.

And the ratio of high-income to low-income households is slightly lower in Palm Beach County than nationwide.

Still, challenges remain, particularly in pulling Palm Beach County’s “disconnected youth” — people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school and not working — into the mainstream economy.

“You’ve got 14.4 percent of young adults on the sidelines of the economy,” Krumnow said.

That’s partly because a large number of high school students fail to graduate. The county’s high school graduation rate of 77 percent lags the national mark of 81.4 percent.

While Palm Beach County’s overall grade was slightly above average, Florida ranked 38th among states. Pulling down the statewide ranking were a combination of low incomes and educational attainment with high crime and poverty rates.

Among Florida counties, the highest score, a B, went to St. Johns County, home of St. Augustine. Four rural counties — Gadsden, Hamilton, Putnam and Suwanee — tied for the lowest mark, D-.

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The Palm Beach Post Official site of The Palm Beach Post newspaper in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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