The U.S. Census Bureau reports that median incomes have dropped in Florida, making residents here poorer, widening the gap between rich and poor in the state. (Photo by SS&SS.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Floridians are among the poorest in the country, and the state’s already stark income gap is widening.

The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported this week that this is because “median income in the state dropped 2.9 percent in 2011 and the state [already] had some of the broadest gaps in income equality.” The report came from the American Community Survey, released by the Census on Thursday:

One in six Floridians lived in poverty last year, and the median income dipped from $45,609 in 2010 to $44,299 in 2011, according to the survey. The national median income is $50,502 and one in five Americans live in poverty.

The survey also found that the income gap in Florida widened by 3.6 percent in 2011, a reflection of the state’s stagnant unemployment and slow jobs market. The income disparities in the state also remain among the highest in the nation, although they are on par with other states in the Southeast.

Seventeen percent of Florida’s population – 3.1 million people — lived in poverty in 2011, up from 16.5 percent in 2010 and above the 15.9 percent national average. According to the survey, 48.5 million people had income below the poverty rate in the U.S., 2.2 million more than the year before.

Gov. Rick Scott has made improving the state’s economic woes — beginning with unemployment — the focus of his administration. However, data continues to show the state economy isn’t improving.

Recently, the state’s chief economist found that unemployment was dropping in the state mostly because people were leaving the workforce altogether. Scott has been touting a two percent drop in unemployment, anyway.

The Times/Herald wrote that “economists have pointed out that the rate is falling because people have given up on looking for work and aren’t being counted among unemployed… [and] job creation has been mediocre compared to other states, and is lagging behind the national growth rate.

When Scott was asked to answer questions about this, he shut down the conversation. This week, he cut off Bloomberg reporter Michael Bender, who asked him about findings from Amy Baker, the Florida Legislature’s chief economist. Baker found that that the state’s unemployment rate was dropping because of a shrinking workforce.

Here is a transcript via Toluse Olorunnipa:

Reporter: “Are you saying those numbers from the state economist are wrong, Governor?”

Scott: “I’m saying we generated 130,000 jobs.”

Reporter: “But that’s not all of the–”

Scott: “Mike, I’ve answered all your questions on that.”

Reporter: “But, no, my question is about the unemployment rate drop–”

Scott: “Mike! I said I’ve answered all your questions.”

Since Scott took office, his administration has used a raw number of how many jobs have been created as their only proof or indicator that the state economy is improving. However, as I have mentioned before, that number is extremely misleading.

This week, reporter Michael Bender tried to call him out on it, or at least get something of an explanation, but Scott is clearly not interested in explaining.

This is why we aren’t really having relevant discussions about job growth in Florida.

We aren’t talking about whether good jobs are being created in the state, whether our unemployment rate dropping actually means more people are finding work, whether people are making more money than they did 10 years ago, and whether the mechanisms we are relying on to create jobs are actually working.