At first glance, the future looks bright for Northeast Florida.
After weathering the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19, we’re on the road to recovery. Unemployment is down. Job growth is up. Businesses are thriving and new people are moving here every day, attracted by a great quality of life and an abundance of opportunity.
But take a closer look and you’ll find that, for many individuals and families in our community, those opportunities feel increasingly out of reach.
Prior to COVID-19, one in three local households – including half of all children – lived in poverty or from paycheck-to-paycheck, just one crisis away from financial disaster. The pandemic became that crisis for thousands of families. It exacerbated existing challenges and deepened the disparities between us; particularly for our Black residents, who already suffered from financial hardship nearly twice as often as their white neighbors.
As costs continue to rise and the needs of our community grow, we can be certain of one thing: without our intervention and support, the cycle of poverty is likely to remain unbroken.
At United Way of Northeast Florida, we’re working to create a community of opportunity – one where everyone has hope and can reach their full potential. We know one organization can’t do it alone, so we focus on connecting people, resources and ideas to solve our community’s toughest challenges and achieve this vision together.
Using research and insights from hundreds of business, government and nonprofit partners, we recently developed a new plan to address the challenge of poverty that centers on one important goal: to improve economic mobility for all residents of Northeast Florida.
What’s economic mobility? It’s making sure every individual, regardless of the color of their skin or the zip code in which they were born, has the opportunity to do better than the generation before. It’s how we measure the “American Dream.”
Today, Northeast Florida ranks among the worst regions in the country when it comes to providing opportunities for an individual to rise out of poverty. In fact, research shows that for every 20 children born into poverty in our community, only one will climb the economic ladder and become a high-earning adult.
We believe we can turn this concerning trend around by focusing on three essential areas that will make economic mobility possible for everyone in our community: Basic Needs, Financial Well-Being and Racial Equity.
We’ll provide short-term assistance to ensure our most vulnerable residents have access to nutritious food, stable housing and mental health support during times of crisis. Our current work in this area includes our United Way 211 information and referral service, Veteran care coordination through Mission United, and the youth mental health care provided by Full Service Schools.
We’ll engage in long-term initiatives to help break the cycle of generational poverty and foster security and success through quality education, stable employment and the assets to weather unforeseen financial challenges. You can see this work in action with our Success By 6 preschool scholarships, the Achievers For Life dropout prevention program and our RealSense tax preparation services.
We’ll also work to eliminate the deep disparities and systemic inequities limiting advancement and prosperity within our communities of color. Within this area, we’re creating a foundation for change through the support of education and awareness opportunities, such as the inaugural Jacksonville Civil Rights Conference, and building capacity and leadership at the community level, as we’ve done through our Root & Rebuild partnership in Jacksonville’s Historic Eastside.
By improving economic mobility, beginning with the factors that drive it, we can remove the barriers limiting opportunity for individuals and families in Northeast Florida and create a stronger, more inclusive community for everyone.