SEBRING - Personal income continues to rise in Highlands County, even as a greater percent of the population is accepting food stamps and food handouts to set the table.
According to a release last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, the county's median family income is $34,913.
By city, Lake Placid households average $33,334, Sebring residents earn $30,319, and Avon Park families come in at $28,189.
"There are no jobs available in the City of Avon Park," said Vice Mayor Brenda Giles. "There are no factories to hire people."
In contrast, County Commissioner Jack Richie said Lake Placid's lakes attract higher-income residents.
"We have a laid-back lifestyle," Richie said. "The lakes are gorgeous here in the Lake Placid area. We have Lake June, Lake Clay, Lake Grassy. Some very expensive homes have been built there."
It's a victory of sorts over the Great Recession. Highlands median incomes rose from $20,690 in 2000 to $28,630 in 2010, but the untold statistical story is that many workers slipped backward into unemployment, underemployment, temporary layoffs and furloughs.
Leanne O'Dell is making "less than half what I used to make," she Facebooked. "You've got to look for alternatives if you want to support your family without the government's help."
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2011, 22 percent of households experienced one or more possible hardships in fulfilling their basic needs in the previous 12 months: not having enough food, unpaid rent or mortgage, eviction, disconnected utilities or phone service, or not seeing a doctor or dentist when needed.
The number of local families on food stamps rose from 16 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012. In 2007, before the Great Recession, only one in 13 Highlands County men, women and children needed government assistance. However, the Department of Children and Families statistics rose from 16,938 in December 2007 to 20,088 in August 2013 - 20.3 percent of the total population.
In Avon Park, that number climbed to 23 percent; 14 percent in Lake Placid. The average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit is $126 per client, or $262 per household. The average allotment to the elderly is $130.
The census said 56.6 percent of Highlands County drew Social Security versus 33.7 percent of Floridians; 32.5 percent of Highlanders drew retirement income compared with 19.1 percent of Floridians.
Social Security checks came to 38 percent in Avon Park, 35.8 percent of Sebring and 47.4 percent of Lake Placid mailboxes.
The number of households with children under 18 with at least one unemployed parent rose by 33 percent between 2005 and 2011.
While Florida unemployment averaged 10.3 percent during the 2007-11 demographic period, Highlands County averaged 13.3 percent, Avon Park averaged 19.8 percent, Lake Placid 11.5 percent, and Sebring 12.2 percent.
As Giles pointed out, Avon Park workers were likely to commute: Highlands County, 31 percent; Avon Park, 43 percent; Lake Placid, 53 percent; Sebring, 41 percent.
Avon Park residents were the most likely to have service jobs - 29 percent versus the rest of the county at 22 percent; Sebring was the most likely to have management, business, science or arts occupations - 26 percent versus 25 percent in the rest of the county.
The ones most likely to have natural resources, construction or maintenance occupations were Lake Placid residents, 32 percent versus 17 percent for the rest of the county.