The Wealth Divide: Economics & Tallahassee, Florida
Words by TyLisa C. Johnson
A run down plot in Tallahassee’s South Side.
The sirens blare throughout the night in the south side of Tallahassee, Florida. With crime as a normal part of the landscape of this part of the city, residents take extra precautions to lock their home doors and cars. There’s an endless blur of run-down stores that used to be, deserted areas, and fast food chain restaurants.
This is different from its neighboring part of town, the north side of Tallahassee, where businesses are always “coming soon,” people can walk safely at night and there are a slew of opportunities for its residents.
In a 2015 study by the Martin Prosperity Institute, “Segregated City: The Geography of Economic Segregation in America’s Metros,” by Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander, Tallahassee, Fla., was found to be the most economically segregated city in the United States.
1. “the-wealth-divide-a-timelapse”“Tallahassee [Florida] and Trenton [New Jersey] have the highest levels of overall economic segregation in the U.S.,” the study says.
With Gaines Street being the divider of the two sides, according to many FAMU students, taking a drive down one of Tallahassee’s main roads from the south to the north is an accurate depiction of the wealth divide. There’s a threshold where wealth stops, and it is evident in the real estate, in the stores, in the nightlife, in the people and in the opportunities.
Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, is home to approximately 188,107 citizens according to the US Census Bureau, but the wealth gap is staggering and it’s begun to affect the quality of life for some citizens. In Tallahassee, 31.1 percent of the population is in poverty, according to the US census bureau, 31.6 percent of its population is African-American and 62.6 percent of the population is Caucasian. The wealth divide is clear, but the effect that it has is more detrimental than anything.
Ishante LaToya Hunter, a visiting assistant professor in the department of History and Political Science at Florida A&M University and Tallahassee native has lived in Tallahassee for the majority of her life and has noticed a definite wealth divide between the south and north sides of Tallahassee.
“There’s definitely an economic divide between the north and the south side [of Tallahassee], the south side of Tallahassee could actually be considered a food desert because of the lack of healthy food that was available to residents on that side of town,” Hunter said.
Hunter, who currently lives in the northwest part of Tallahassee, also noted that on the south side there is a lack of businesses, which explains the lack of employment, and most people on the south side either have “limited transportation or no transportation.” Hunter also noted that people on the south side are more likely to be on food stamps, and less likely to own their homes
“We definitely see the difference in the development that is going on in the college town section, which is across the railroad tracks, opposed to the lack of development on [the south] side of the railroad tracks and that, of course, is attributed to the economic divide that pervades in the city,” Hunter said.
In a five-part series on economic segregation in United States metros done in 2014 by The Atlantic, Tallahassee was ranked twelfth for smaller and medium-sized metros where the wealthy are the most isolated.
Nia Sylvester, a junior Business Administration student at FAMU who lives on the south side characterized the south side of Tallahassee as “the hood,” noting that she sees the police at least once a month, and notices a lot more gunshots and violence in her south side neighborhood due to the high crime rate.
“Growing up from a really white, suburban area, it was a culture shock for me. I’d never been around so many black people,” Sylvester said. “It’s a lot of drugs, but I feel like it starts with a lot of the youngest kids, like you see kids who should be in school during the day that aren’t in school, and I noticed that you have people lingering around near the corner store, you have the crack heads, you have the kids who just skip school.”
Andrew Rybeck, an advertising student at Florida State University from Jacksonville, Fla., who lives on the north side of Tallahassee, also notices a wealth divide.
“The south side seems a little more run-down than the north side. There are more vacant buildings on the south side than the north. This could be due to the fact that the north side has more people due to [Florida State University], which in turn means more money to be thrown around in the economy [on the north side],” Rybeck said.
Rybeck also noted that although there are not many large businesses, there are many local businesses, and more of a culture on the south side of Tallahassee.
“I see that there tends to be a more cultural connection in the south side of Tallahassee. There seems to be more independent local businesses, and the sense of community is stronger on the south side than the north side,” Rybeck said.
A study done by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, economists at Harvard, of The Equality of Opportunity Project in 2015 ranked Leon County as one of the worst places in the U.S. to grow up.
The study found that there are many factors contributing to low upward mobility in Leon County.
“Across the country, the researchers found five factors associated with strong upward mobility: less segregation by income and race, lower levels of income inequality, better schools, lower rates of violent crime, and a larger share of two-parent households,” a New York Times article about the study said.
The researchers believe that the local living circumstances have the largest effect on the social mobility of a person, but in Tallahassee, this mobility is rare.
“The broader lesson of our analysis,” Chetty and Hendren wrote in their study, “is that social mobility should be tackled at a local level.”