In the working-class town of Sanford, northeast of Orlando, Julius Angel Lopez, 18, and his 62-year-old father have been hired to fix up the now-closed La Fontana sandwich shop at the Sanford Plaza. The first-time voter from Deltona says he is leaning toward Hillary Clinton. His father arrived from Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, raised five children, and now has back problems and no insurance.
“I want to hear Hillary and Trump talk about how they can affect people like us,” said Lopez, who aspires to join the Marine Corps. “My dad has worked his whole life and can’t get a disability check. But I feel like the candidates are so focused on each other, they forget about the people of this nation.”
Next door, at Ruth’s Salon, Elizabeth Solla, 42, recites her list of concerns: the high cost of college for her two college-age children, the rising cost of rent for them to leave home, and the obstacles to saving for retirement for her and her husband.
“It worries me,” said Solla, a nurse at Central Florida Regional Hospital. “My mother is retired and Social Security is not enough to sustain her because of the cost of living. You have to find other ways to save money.”
Reports from Florida economic development agencies and the U.S. Census bureau boast of an economic rebound in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott and business leaders tout the state unemployment rate hovering at a low 4.7 percent and how the economy is cranking out new jobs at twice the national pace.
Yet in poll after poll this election cycle, voters identify jobs and the economy as their top concerns.
“You cannot underestimate how household finances affect everything,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor who conducted the recent USF/Nielsen Sunshine State survey. “No matter who wins the election, they are going to have to deal with this problem … Every race from top to the bottom is going to feel it.”
The USF/Nielsen poll found that the top concern of voters is the economy, and 63 percent of Floridians report feeling financial stress in their households. Of those, 28 percent considered the top threat to the state’s economy to be the lack of well-paying jobs, and 51 percent support an increase in the state minimum wage to $15.
A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll conducted in late September also ranked the economy and jobs as the top concern of Florida voters, ahead of education and schools.
“It’s still the No. 1 concern of everybody on an open-ended question,” said Marian Johnson, pollster for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Why don’t voters feel the recovery?
The reason lies deep within the data. Florida’s post-recession bounce has fundamentally restructured the economy in a way that has left millions with fewer assets, lower incomes, and less potential to withstand even short-term budget stress — such as a major car repair or damage from a hurricane.
An economic analysis compiled for the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau by Florida International University Metropolitan Center shows that although many jobs have returned since the Great Recession, the new jobs are paying workers significantly less than the jobs they replaced, and the rebound has been dramatically uneven across the state.
“The collective economy of the state is under performing compared to the national economy and other states,” said Kevin Greiner, senior research fellow at FIU’s Metropolitan Center who conducted the study for the Herald/Times. “But what’s really shocking is that there are so many counties that have been completely left behind since the recession.” Story, graphics and data here.