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Newfound focus on finding jobs in Glades

Unemployment 4 to 5 times that of Palm Beach County
Posted at 10:00 AM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 17:25:38-05

BELLE GLADE, Fla. — The most western parts of Palm Beach County are where agriculture is king. You can see open-air and farmlands as far as the eye can see, but it's also home for those who live in the Glades communities.

"If there are no jobs, then I don't think people really have hope," Charles Duval, with CareerSource Palm Beach County, told WPTV.

It's also a place where jobs can be hard to come by.

"Historically, there have been problems with unemployment in the Glades," he said. "It's always outpaced Palm Beach County."

CareerSource Palm Beach County cited the latest information from the U.S. Census 2019 five-year estimates. It shows about 12.7% of all people in Florida are living in poverty. In Belle Glade, that number is closer to 41.1%. Additionally, the median household income in Florida is just over $59,000. In Belle Glade, it is closer to $24,000.

According to CareerSource Palm Beach County, unemployment in the Glades typically runs about four to five times higher than the rest of Palm Beach County.

"Right now, Palm Beach County is at about 3.5%, so we would expect unemployment in the Glades to be anywhere from 12 to 16%," Duval said.

Charles Duval, with CareerSource Palm Beach County, talks about needs in Glades
Charles Duval says it's no secret that the greatest need for CareerSource Palm Beach County is in the Glades.

Leaders cite the lack of diverse industries in the area, where agriculture has largely driven the communities.

"Agriculture is seasonal by nature, and so when the season's over, historically, a lot of farm workers have moved to other parts of the country," Duval said.

There are now increased efforts to find Glades residents jobs. CareerSource opened an office in the Heart of Belle Glade on Main Street.

"If you look at our mission, this is exactly where we need to be, right here on Main Street next to the people," Duval said. "When you have a region that has historically had unemployment as high as 40% during the height of the great recession, you know that this is where the greatest need is."

They're focused on finding jobs for Glades residents, like Caroline Larris, who was unemployed for about six months. Eventually, she was placed through CareerSource.

"It was very difficult," she said. "You would go online and you'd have to do the job searches. You'd get the interviews, you know, and they never call back. I was working a job where I was doing seasonal work, and so I got with CareerSource and they placed me with the city of South Bay."

Catherine Miller, placed with South Bay job via CareerSource Palm Beach County
Catherine Miller says CareerSource Palm Beach County placed her with a job with the city of South Bay after she struggled to find work.

Duval said job placements in the Glades communities, which encompass Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, are trending up. They've held job fairs for major area employers, like Florida Crystals and Finfrock, a facility for precast concrete manufacturing. It's been touted as the largest economic development project there in 30 years.

"If you look at the Glades. you can see that it is conducive to other industries as well, such as manufacturing, transportation, eco-tourism," Duval said. "The sky is really the limit."

CareerSource Palm Beach County said over the past five years, it has placed more than 6,400 Glades residents, and, with help from area organizations, has focused on pumping money into job training.

Young workers like Catherine Miller, who was born in Belle Glade, also got placed through CareerSource. She stressed the importance of keeping jobs close to home and not having to go east for work and higher-paying jobs.

"A lot of us don't have transportation to get to West Palm (Beach) all the time, or sometimes we just have to stay closer to home to take care of our family and friends," she said.

Belle Glade 'Her Seal is Her Fortune' sign
This sign welcomes visitors and residents to Belle Glade.

Something as simple as a job means so much to the people who live here.

"It keeps us going as one, because many of us go through the same things out here in the Glades community," Miller said. "We understand one another, so having a job to provide for our family. It brings us together because we can help one another out."

Duval said the community has gotten together to address the problem and find solutions.

"Everyone deserves the dignity of having a paycheck, of going out and earning money and being able to provide for your family, and people here in our community are no different," he said.