MANATEE — The ranks of Manatee County’s poverty-stricken swelled last year, with the economic recession hitting minorities, the less-educated and the young the hardest, according to government estimates set for release today.
An estimated 39,328 Manatee residents, or 12.6 percent of the county’s population, lived below the federal poverty line in 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau said. That’s an increase of more than 6,000 people from the previous year, when 10.7 percent of Manatee residents were in poverty.
It’s Manatee’s highest poverty rate since at least 1993, and officials of agencies that serve the poor said Monday it likely has gotten worse since last year.
“I think we’re going to see it go up more before it comes down,” said Barbara Patten, executive director of the Manatee Community Action Agency. “We’re seeing more and more people who’ve never sought help from our agency before. Some are donors who’ve now become clients.”
The census said its margin of error was plus or minus 1.9 percentage points, meaning Manatee’s overall poverty rate actually could be as high as 14.5 percent.
Experts say the increase in poverty reflects the housing slump and recession, which have curtailed incomes, triggered massive job losses and forced more people onto food stamps and other forms of public assistance.
Manatee’s estimated annual median household income fell by nearly $2,900 from 2007 to 2008 as the recession deepened, census data showed. The county’s unemployment rate hit 12.3 percent in August, the highest since rates have been recorded. And the number of Manatee residents receiving food stamps has risen by more than 54 percent in just the past year, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families.
That has resulted in more people seeking help at DCF’s Bradenton service center, 4210 20th St. W. Among those there Monday were Ashley Remstedt and her 2-year-old son, Colton.
“There’s no jobs, and I just had my power turned off,” Remstedt said. “I’m behind on my rent. I don’t know what to do.”
That’s become a common refrain from a growing number of people who have never needed public help before, said Andrea Gillette, a DCF supervisor.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs, people who have worked all their lives,” Gillette said.
Those at the bottom of the income ladder accounted for most of the local increase in poverty, census figures show.
An estimated 26.4 percent of Manatee Hispanics lived in poverty last year, up from 23 percent, while it rose from 18.5 percent to 21.5 percent for those younger than 18 years of age. The jump was even greater for those who never completed high school: 24.5 percent last year, up from 18.5 percent.
Black and white poverty rates in Manatee went in opposite directions from 2007 to 2008. It fell by nearly 3 percentage points to 21.3 percent for blacks, while it rose by 2 percentage points to 10.3 percent for whites.
More than 211,000 Floridians fell into poverty last year, pushing the state’s rate to 13.2 percent — the same as the U.S. rate. Florida was among just seven states that saw increases in the number and percentage of people in poverty between 2007 and 2008, the Census said.
An estimated 8.6 percent of U.S. households, and 7.2 percent of those in Florida, received food stamps last year. In Manatee, it was 5.6 percent.
— Herald photographer Tiffany Tompkins-Condie contributed to this report.