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Haas Center Report Shows African Americans’ Economic Power

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

For Black History Month, the Haas Center at the University of West Florida is collaborating with the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce to present “We the People,” a demographic overview of African Americans in the Pensacola metro area. The goal of the report is to get a sense of their economic impact locally.

“We really tried to hit on several measures across all different aspects of black life in Escambia and Santa Rosacounties,” said Amy Newburn, associate director of the Haas Center.

Newburn will make the lunchtime presentation as part of their community engagement effort.

“We focused on some core demographics like education levels, job growth and industry concentration. We talk about income levels, poverty, SNAP, etc. But, we also focus on some other quality of life factors like how civic participation has changed over the past 10 years.”

The PowerPoint presentation ends with some analysis of the economic impact of the black community within the local Metropolitan Statistical Area or MSA.

But, the story begins with a look at the local African American population.

“One in five households in Escambia are African American and four percent of households in Santa Rosa are African American,” Newburn said. “When we think about what that means as far as a concentration level, Escambia County has well above the national average of black members in our community, while Santa Rosa County is actually a little under represented.”

As of 2017, there were more than 71,000 black residents in Escambia, with the greatest shift from northern parts of the county to more centrally located communities. In Santa Rosa, the black population was 10,629, with a 126 percent increase in the Pace area.

Another key demographic is education. Statistics from the census and partner organization Achieve Escambia show that graduation rates for black students in Escambia have been increasing. Also encouraging is the decline in the number of individuals with less than a high school diploma; down by 42 percent for black women and 13 percent for black men over the past 10 years.

What Newburn found most interesting about the data is what it showed about the education levels for individuals age 25 and older.

“We look at something like what percentage of this group has a bachelor’s degree, or some college,” she explained. “And, for both those groups, the increase in black men that had a bachelor’s degree or higher or some college and an associate’s degree was more than 60 percent.”

Acknowledging that there is more room for improvement in education level for black men, Newburn maintained that the overwhelming growth shows the success of some targeted initiatives over the past decade.

According to the Haas Center report, home ownership for African Americans declined slightly between 2008 and 2017, from 55 percent to 48 percent. Also, there was a 31 percent rise in non-family households over that period, although that was not unique to one demographic.

More positively, there was a slight drop in the number of blacks living below poverty level, down from nearly 30 percent to about 25 percent. Additionally, there was an increase in median household income over the 10-year period, up from $26,349 up to $34,557.

The largest two industries that employ black residents are health care and social assistance, and accommodation and food services, followed by retail trade, and administrative and support jobs.

“But, what we have seen is a huge growth in finance and insurance which we’ve seen across the board and you can largely attribute to the rise in employment due to Navy Federal (Credit Union),” said Newburn. Overall, from 2008-2017, the sector produced a 60 percent increase in jobs; the increase was twice that for blacks in the sector.

Specific to Escambia County, civic engagement for blacks went up, as well.

“Across the board, women are registered at a 90 percent level or above, but black men were registered at about a 73 percent rate and white men were registered at 87 percent, so there’s some room to make up there.”

Focusing on the mid-term elections in 2010 and 2018, voter turn up was up across the board, but for blacks rose from 44 percent in 2010 to 58 percent last year.

The biggest gap in the Haas Center demographic report is in the area of business ownership. The most recent data available is from 2012, which showed there were just over 3,500 minority-owned businesses in the metro area, with a 38 percent increase from 2017 to 2012.

To determine the overall economic impact of African Americans in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, Newburn says they ran a couple of different economic analysis models.

“The first one was what happens if we took out the black-only household spending from the Pensacola MSA, and what that means is that over a billion dollars, $1.2 billion in sales would be removed from our region,” Newburn explained. “That helps to support nearly 10,198 jobs and that’s just household spending and that’s a huge number.”

Removing black-only employees from the workforce would produce even larger numbers, resulting in the loss of $3.6 billion in sales from the regional economy, and nearly 25,000 jobs.

Overall, the Haas Center report confirmed much of what researchers already knew about the status of this segment of the population.

The bottom line says Newburn, “Life as far as many economic measures and values have increased for black residents in our region and you can see that when you’re looking at education and income.”

Newburn will join the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commercefor the  Black History Month presentation “We The People,” on Monday, Feb. 25. The informal lunchtime event will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the Studer Community Institute, 220 W. Garden St. Ste. 100,  downtown Pensacola. 

Interested individuals can find out more details and register by visiting the chamber's website

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.