June 23, 2013|By Jim Stratton, Orlando Sentinel
High levels of poverty and unemployment are fixtures within many black and Hispanic neighborhoods, while the county’s wealthiest areas are almost exclusively white, a new analysis of Orange County census numbers show.
The study, done by University of Central Florida business Professor Mark Soskin, reviewed 2011 data for all 206 Orange census tracts. Soskin looked at everything from average household size to the percentage of people in an area who used public transportation.
Soskin says he was struck the degree of clustering among different racial and ethnic groups and by the wide gaps in income, educational levels and general standard of living. Those differences have been documented for decades, Soskin said, but the census tract data illustrates them in a “disturbingly stark” way.
“It reflects a three-class society,” Soskin said, “where two of those three classes seem to have very little chance of living the American Dream.”
His analysis found, for example, that for the 20 census tracts with median household incomes of $80,000 or more, all were mostly white, often more than 70 percent white.
On the flip side, of the 20 poorest census tracts – with median household incomes of less than $32,000 – 13 were predominately black, four were mostly Hispanic and three were mostly white.
There were similar disparities for unemployment rates, percentage of families living in poverty and percentage of adults with college degrees. Countywide, about 46 percent of residents are white, non-Hispanic, 28 percent are Hispanic and 22 percent are black.
Census tracts typically include about 5,000 people and can provide information at the neighborhood level.
Consider the numbers for families living in poverty: Just 5 percent of majority-white census tracts had poverty rates of 20 percent or more. The share rose to one-third for majority-Hispanic tracts and almost half for majority-black census tracts.
The raw numbers are even more striking: There are 101 majority-white census tracts, and five of those reported poverty rates of at least 20 percent. There are just 32 majority black tracts but 15 of them had poverty rates of 20 percent or more.
Unemployment rates follow the same pattern. Fourteen of the 20 neighborhoods with the worst jobless rates — between 18 and 34 percent — were majority black. Four were majority Hispanic, and two were mostly white.
Of the 32 tracts that were majority African-American, 21 reported jobless rates of at least 15 percent on the year. Ten of the tracts had unemployment rates of more than 20 percent.
Just one white-majority tract – out of 101 – reported a jobless rate of more than 20 percent.
Brian Butler, who grew up in Orlando, now runs JCB Construction in the city’s historically black Parramore district. Butler, who is black, said the recession was particularly hard on working-class minorities, who had few job options if they were laid off.
He said he worries that when unemployment becomes the norm in a neighborhood, children lose sight of what might be possible. They don’t learn, he said, “how to aspire to something better.”
“You know they say misery loves company,” he said. “Well misery can create more misery, too.”
A college education is one of the most potent antidotes to poverty, but Soskin’s data shows they remain rare commodities in many minority neighborhoods. There are 22 tracts where at least half of all adults have a college degree, and all are majority-white neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, of the 20 tracts with the lowest share of college degrees, 12 were mostly black, seven were predominately Hispanic and one was mostly white. Soskin said research has shown a dearth of college graduates can suppress wages for everyone in an area, in part, because employers are less likely to locate nearby.
That creates, he said, a “vicious cycle of blighted, low-income areas” that robs residents “of the opportunities to be more successful.”
Apart from some of the differences across neighborhoods, Soskin said he was particularly struck by how different groups continue to cluster together. That’s long been the case with blacks and whites, but the data shows Hispanics are following the same trend.
Soskin said he had assumed Hispanics were spread more evenly throughout the county and was “stunned” at how many had located in the eastern and southeastern parts of the county.