No Child Should Have To Grow Up In Poverty
by Kevin Kieft, President/CEO Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce
870,505 children in Florida live in poverty. Of those children, 26 percent live in Polk County. These statistics are grimmer when you focus on Lake Wales. In the three zip codes that encompass the city limits, the childhood poverty rate is much higher, ranging from 29.9 percent in 33880 to 43.8 percent in 33859.
Of course, even one child living in poverty is too much. No child should have to go to bed at night without food in their stomach or a roof over their head. No child should live in poverty. Not in Florida, not in Polk County, and especially not here in Lake Wales.
While childhood poverty itself is bad enough, economic inequality combined with racial inequality is worse. Here in Florida and in 32 other states, black and Hispanic children are twice more likely to grow up in poverty than their white peers, according to data from Child Trends.
I will not shy away from the facts. There is no doubt the African-American community, from slavery to segregation, has been negatively impacted. Historically they have been forced to endure inequitable conditions and racial discrimination, all of which have led to the unjust conditions we see today.
Both racial and economic inequality are unacceptable. They need to be remedied, and we as a nation and community need to address them. We cannot claim to be a country where all people are considered “equal” when some of us live in worse condition than others.
We here at the Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce firmly believe that the people and the economy are one and the same. We believe that economic development hinges upon how well people are living in the city, and that the people in the city live well when there is economic development. When the people are well-off, the economy is well-off, and vice-versa.
One way our local chamber helps address these issues is through our partnership with the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Chamber Foundation. Currently, they are seeking to address childhood poverty through its Prosperity Initiative. The initiative, according to their website, hopes to unite “Florida’s business community to implement long-term solutions that provide economic opportunity for all Floridians, regardless of what zip code they live in.”
The initiative includes the Prosperity Initiative Promising Practices. This program highlights various organizations and businesses throughout the state that address poverty-related problems such as food deserts, homelessness, and access to healthcare.
Here in Lake Wales, one of our greatest assets towards addressing poverty and the conditions that create poverty is undoubtedly the Lake Wales Care Center. From assisting Meals on Wheels with delivering hot meals to area shut-ins, to helping families receive financial assistance to meet their needs such as clothing, food, and furniture, to providing transitional housing to homeless families to help get them back on their feet, no other organization has proven more pivotal and vital in the fight against poverty.
And of course, we here at the Chamber have worked on many economic development projects to attract small and large businesses that provide well-paying jobs to local residents. Through our efforts and other Area Economic Development Agency efforts, we have worked to bring businesses that add value to the region. Some recent examples include Pamlico Air and Alsim.
We here at the Chamber will continue to cooperate with other local organizations and our state chamber to help pass initiatives to help the least of us. As the great Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “A great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”