Leaders from Indian River County’s philanthropic organizations, county government, and nonprofit agencies serving the area’s aging and impoverished residents recently completed a comprehensive study of the socio-economic realities in the county.
The Indian River County Community Needs Assessment (CNA) focuses on five main areas: children, economic opportunity, health, housing, and seniors.
Among the main findings in the CNA:
- The population of Indian River County is growing fast, particularly its elderly population.
- The population is becoming much more racially and ethnically diverse – with the Hispanic/Latino population growing the fastest.
- The gap between the very rich and the very poor is very wide. Although Indian River is one of the top-10 richest counties in Florida, more than half of residents are severely financially stressed – either living in poverty, or one or two paychecks away from poverty.
- In fact, Indian River County has the 10th largest income gap between the top 1% and the bottom 99% of earners out of 3,061 counties nationwide, according to the study.
- Wages are low. The average income is $43,373, yet the cost of living for a family of four locally is $63,145. Many of the county’s 3,000 teachers earn less than the average wage. Wage increases often substantially lag behind cost-of-living increases.
- Many people cannot afford safe, quality housing. One-third of the county’s households – more than 20,000 – pay more than 30% of total income on housing. Another 2% are homeless or on waiting lists for government-supported housing.
- Many children do not finish high school.
- Many residents lack affordable medical and dental care. Almost half of all residents lack dental insurance.
- About 25% of senior citizens live alone or are isolated from essential social interaction and rich emotional experiences.
- Smoking and heavy drinking among seniors are at rates nearly double the state average, complicating many of the health, social, and emotional challenges that come with age.
The wealth gap in Indian River County continues to widen, “and that is a continuing challenge,” says Jeff Pickering, CEO of the Indian River Community Foundation.