Special to South Florida Times

MIAMI — Unemployment and poverty rates in Miami-Dade County have reached record highs, with no relief in sight. An insufficient number of quality jobs are available and only low-wage occupations are projected to come into the area over the next eight years, according to some experts.

But if that happens, the county will merely be “perpetuating poverty,” according to John Edwards, chairman of the Community Action Partnership and executive director of

the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency in Jacksonville.

And, according to Rick Beasley, executive director of South Florida Workforce, of the 1.6 million Miami-Dade residents aged 25 to 44,  only 861,000 have even a high school diploma.

Yet, Beasley said, 61 percent of the jobs in the county require post-secondary education.

That may be why in some parts of the county, unemployment is at a staggering level. For the Miami neighborhood of Liberty City, it is 36 percent; Wynwood, 23 percent; and Allapattah, 29 percent.

“We need to move folks up to become self-sufficient,” Beasley said. “A skilled workforce is needed to drive individual and economic development.”

The comments and statistics came during a recent Florida Association for Community Action Inc. (FACA) symposium on poverty at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus Auditorium, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami, on the theme “Engaging Key Partners in Addressing Poverty.”

Ojus resident Grayson Wells was not pleased at what he heard. He was  “hurt,” he said, to hear that “low-wage positions are all we can look forward to. That's an insult.”

“I did not go into debt for my MBA to graduate and work at Walmart,” he said. “The fact that someone in control of what businesses come and go in this town feels that that's all we qualify for is downright appalling. It's a method of slavery.”

“There's no money to leave Miami and certainly not enough money to stay,” Wells said.

The symposium, in its second year, was held as part of the legislative process of establishing the agenda for a Florida Commission on Poverty.

Beasley said institutions offering training in technology and life sciences, such as the University of Miami and Florida International University, offer hope for “creating jobs for the community, new occupations, new types of jobs … ones that can move you from the low-wage occupations to high-goal, high-skilled occupations.”

But those opportunities would be lost if people are unprepared for them, Beasley said.

“The key word here is opportunity,” Edwards said. “What we are looking for is the governor or the Legislature to create the Florida Commission on Poverty that will tie all of this together in a comprehensive way that will generate change in the state.”

FACA is beginning to develop strategies on how such a commission can be formed, Edwards said. It could be a panel appointed or created by law to examine the assets low-income residents, what the problems and the needs are and solutions to move Floridians out of poverty.

Planning for the commission has been going on about a year, Edwards said during an interview after the symposium. “FACA has taken this on as a real priority because of our constituents, which are the low-income residents of Florida,” he said. “We have support in the Florida House of Representatives and are developing similar support in the Florida Senate for sponsors of bills that we would like to see developed that would help us get this commission enacted.”

Also on the panel were David Lawrence, president, Early Learning Childhood Initiative Foundation; Marisel Losa, president and CEO, Health Council of South Florida; and Harve Mogul, president and CEO, United Way of Miami-Dade County.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net