In Orlando, the number of children living in poverty has risen by about 50 percent, from 82,000 to 116,000, since the start of the recession. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, which looks at family incomes, found that the poverty rate is at 15.3 percent nationwide. That’s a 52-year high. And yet, in Florida, it’s significantly worse (16.5 percent) than even that.

And like local report cards, the depth of the drop was described in newspaper accounts across Florida.

In Orlando, the number of children living in poverty has risen by about 50 percent, from 82,000 to 116,000, since the start of the recession.

In Lee and Collier counties, a quarter of children live in poverty.

It was the same 25 percent story in Miami-Dade and Alachua counties, while the poverty rate for children in Broward and Palm Beach counties were comparatively milder at 20 percent. Comparatively.

In Sarasota County, the poverty rate jumped an astounding 62 percent in the past four years. And today, more than 1,200 elementary-school students in the county are homeless.

In areas of Tampa Bay, the poverty rate jumped from 15 to 40 percent. And one section of downtown Tampa saw poverty move up from an already startling 68 percent to a mind-numbing 86 percent.

So, as bad as things are in the United States, they’re worse in Florida. And as bad as they are throughout the state, they’re absolutely devastating in Florida’s urban areas and suburbs. And remember, that’s where more than 90 percent of Floridians live.

“Our suburbs are growing faster than our cities, but it’s not just that,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate with the Brookings Institution who worked on an analysis of poverty in the suburbs that was released earlier last month. “The poor population overall is growing faster … in the suburbs.”

And while Florida’s poverty boomed, on what did Tallahassee focus? Reducing what is already one of the lowest state corporate tax rates in the country. Requiring welfare applicants and state workers (but not themselves) to take drug tests. Denying an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Cutting money from public education, while sending more to charter and private schools. Telling doctors what they can’t say to their patients in the examining room. And fighting voter-approved mandates in court.

Next up in the 2012 session: casino gambling and personal injury protection insurance.

Meanwhile, 20 to 25 percent of the children in Florida cities are living in poverty. And no relief in sight.

This is no longer a problem. It’s a crisis — and not just of the economy.