Growing Up in Orange County (Florida) Sucks

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“To be sure, poverty begets poverty. But it is not the sole determinant. Much depends on where in the US you grow up poor. Children of poor parents in some parts of the country exhibit strikingly greater upward-income mobility than do those in other parts of the country.”—Sanford Rose

Dolors & Sense

By Sanford Rose

Outside the gated community.
Outside the gated community.

Sanford Rose

KISSIMMEE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—4/25/2016—The realtor’s mantra of “location, location, location” does not just refer to the value of your house. It also relates to your kid’s chances of escaping poverty.

To be sure, poverty begets poverty. But it is not the sole determinant.

Much depends on where in the US you grow up poor. Children of poor parents in some parts of the country exhibit strikingly greater upward-income mobility than do those in other parts of the country.

According to a recent study conducted by leading Harvard University economists, children of parents in the bottom 25 percent of the income distribution have only about a 4 to 5 percent chance of rising to the top 25 percent of earners in Atlanta or Charlotte. But in Salt Lake City and San Francisco, their chances of reaching the top quartile of earners are nearly three times greater.

Unfortunately, getting ahead in Florida is harder than it is in most of the rest of the country. By the time poor children raised in Orange County, which includes Orlando, the largest city hereabouts, reach age 26, their annual paychecks are about $3,500 below the average of paychecks received by 26-year-olds from the lowest-income families in the rest of the US.

The earnings shortfall may be the result of the dominance of low-wage industries in the local economy.

But it also may result from a culturally deprived childhood, a substandard education, a more-than-normally segregated community, and a distribution of income that is unequal enough to freeze initiative.

Florida, as I’ve previously noted, is one of the least egalitarian of states, ranking 46th out of 50 according to a standard measure of income equality (the Gini coefficient).

If the problem is indeed cultural deprivation, poor education and income inequality, then part of the solution is a state income tax that both will help redistribute income and provide funds for more pre-school education, better qualified teachers and a richer, more demanding educational experience. It may also generate enough revenue to fund programs of male mentoring for the children of single mothers.

But Florida, which once had a wealth tax, stubbornly refuses to enact a state income tax. The failure to pass such a measure sends the following message to households in Orlando and in surrounding towns. If you are truly interested in your children’s economic future, move—preferably out of the state, but certainly out of Orange County. 

But that’s the message those who dominate the state’s political life really want to send. Their objective is to turn this state, which contains many gated communities, into one statewide gated community. 

Florida’s governing class wants to send those “huddled masses” elsewhere.

It wants to extinguish the lamp.

It wants to slam shut the golden door.

Sanford Rose, of New Jersey and Florida, served as Associate Editor of Fortune Magazine from 1968 till 1972; Vice President of Chase Manhattan Bank in 1972; Senior Editor of Fortune between 1972 and 1979; and Associate Editor, Financial Editor and Senior Columnist of American Banker newspaper between 1979 and 1991. From 1991 till 2001, Rose worked as a consultant in the banking industry and a professional ghost writer in the field of finance. He has also taught as an adjunct professor of banking at Columbia University and an adjunct instructor of economics at New York University. He states that he left gainful employment in 2001 to concentrate on gain-less investing. (A lifelong photo-phobe, Rose also claims that the head shot accompanying his Weekly Hubris columns is not his own, but belongs, instead, to a skilled woodworker residing in South Carolina.)


  • Charles Donahue

    I too am of New Jersey and Florida (toss in New York and Pennsylvania). Unlike yourself, I have no experience in finance and banking. However, having left the north to escape oppressive winters and equally oppresive state and local taxes, I would not be in favor of state taxes as a cure for Florida’s income inequality. Taxation has not produced higher educational achievement in economically deprived northern communities. Despite Florida/Orange County’s lower wages compared to its northeastern counterparts, the higher cost of housing, transportation, services, etc. in these regions yield a less desireable quality of life for lower-income families. Lower-income family migration between Florida and state taxed areas such as Newark, East New York, Bronx, Camden, Paterson etc. overwhelmingly points south.

  • Sanford Rose

    I agree that a state income tax is not a panacea, but it may help. Migrants from other states who were licensed teachers there and who now serve as volunteer teachers here repeatedly tell me that the Florida educational system at the primary and secondary levels is among the most primitive and underfunded in the country. Scholars argue that the quality of pre-school education is one of the most important factors determining future educational and occupational success. Here, too, Florida falls short.
    But I would emphasize motivational issues as well. Incomes in this state are far more unequally distributed than in most other states (New York and Connecticut excepted). This has a predictable negative impact on the aspirational levels of the young.