‘Sluggish economy’ affecting Jacksonville’s quality of life
Despite gains in the economy, the effects of the recession continue to impact Jacksonville's quality of life through lower per capita income, unemployment and decreased sales-tax collections, according to an annual Jacksonville Community Council Inc. study released today.
The 28th annual JCCI "Quality of Life Progress Report" found that the economy remains a "striking" concern.
"Perhaps most alarming is the economic side of things," said Ben Warner, JCCI president and CEO, said in an interview Wednesday.
Warner said incremental gains in areas such as the unemployment rate are not yet boosting the economy.
"We are making some progress and the arrows are pointing in the right direction, but there is a real sense that we have to accelerate economic progress," Warner said.
Duval County's unemployment rate and per capita income are listed as key indicators. Both were labeled with red flags indicating they needed improvement.
According to the report, Duval's unemployment rate dropped during the period analyzed from 10.6 percent to 8.8 percent, which the report labeled as "still high."
Per capita income, when adjusted for inflation, increased $747 to $40,139 from $39,392 and "is only as powerful as it was in 2004," according to the report.
Other economic indicators labeled negative are households that pay more than 30 percent of income for housing — from 42 percent to 41 percent and labeled as "too many"— and retail sales, indicated by sales tax collections, which declined.
The report states previous retail sales were $117.5 million and have declined to $116.6 million, indicating a 0.8 percent decline.
The percentage of adults with a bachelor's degree or higher rose to 27.2 percent from 26.9 percent, a 1.1 percent gain. That movement suggested "the workforce is taking advantage of higher education opportunities." The latest report identifies 11,108 bachelor's degrees awarded were, up 202 from the previous 10,906.
"If we are going to have the wages we want in our community, we need the education level to manage those high-wage jobs," Warner said.
The level of JaxPort tonnage was the only economic indicator to earn a gold star. The report lists the port's previous tonnage at 8.1 million and latest at 8.2 million, the third consecutive year of increases.
The report also includes indicators for environmental preservation, arts and recreation,
transportation and safety among others, but the economy affects all areas, Warner said.
"The overall sluggish economic growth in Jacksonville continues to weaken the social fabric," the report states.
It says that in 2011, there were 176,719 families on food stamps, more than 1,000 unsheltered homeless people on any given day and a higher suicide rate.
Warner also said he was worried about the health of the St. Johns River based on two indicators that "have us nervous" —average daily water use and tributary water-quality standards.
Average daily water use in Duval County was given as 205 gallons per person, up from 195 gallons.
Tributary compliance decreased. "We're moving in the wrong direction," he said.
Warner said an area showing gains was the support for the arts community. That includes recreation funding per person and attendance at sporting and cultural events that comprise museums, musical performances and the zoo.
The annual report began in 1985 as a way of measuring year-over-year progress in categories to "measure ourselves of where we wanted to be" and determine if the city is achieving that goal, Warner said.
"This report makes us take an honest look at ourselves," Warner said.
Warner said JCCI's JAX2025 initiative could further evolve which quality-of-life factors are reviewed.
More than 14,000 people completed surveys identifying concerns and "likes" as part of a quality-of-life analysis and visioning exercise to create priorities for the future.
He said he could envision future quality of life reports to retain much of the framework — especially as it relates to the economy — while also being "a little more robust" in comparisons to years past.
"I think what we see will be entirely up to the people," Warner said. "I think we will see some new measures as well. That's part of the excitement of going through the process: what can next year look like?"
The full quality of life report is available at jcci.org.