Trend or blip? Earnings of Floridians slipping this year

Let's call this the Case of the Low Hanging Fruit.

Florida may have added tens of thousands of jobs since the start of 2011, but so far they tend to be lower-paying opportunities, many of them in the tourism industry.

Nothing wrong with that. We like tourism jobs. Visit Florida, the state tourism bureau, says 21.2 million people visited the state in the second quarter of this year. That's a 6.9 percent gain over the same period last year and a bright light in Florida's bruised business world. The tourism increase outpaced the rest of the United States by more than 1 percentage point.

But if motel-hotel help or servers are mostly what's in the state's employment pipeline, then we have a problem.

From January through May of this year, the average working Floridian's seen about a 3 percent drop in weekly earnings, according to labor data. On average, a working Floridian earned $770.77 per week in January but by June received less: $749.30. The same is true for those working in the Tampa Bay market. They earned on average $796.22 in January and are now paid $783.31.

That's $1,100 less a year for the average working Floridian, more than a week's earnings lost. On the statewide average, it is the difference between earning $40,080 and $38,964 per year.

So here's the big question:

Are the bumper crop of lower-paying jobs simply the first to be revived as we climb out of Florida's recession? Or is the state heading for a longer-term decline in earnings that will drop the Sunshine State even further below the national pay average?

There may be cause for concern. In February, St. Petersburg Times business writer Jeff Harrington analyzed jobs and income data over the past year and found that the state had not only stalled in its mission to become a higher-wage state. It had gone backward.

Harrington found that the average pay for a lost job among the top five hardest-hit industries was $49,884. Meanwhile, the average pay for industries creating the most jobs was starkly lower at $34,239.

Some of this year's biggest layoffs hit Florida's Space Coast where the space industry suffered job losses involving well-paid engineers and technicians.

Tracking job gains and losses is not easy. Here in Tampa Bay, PricewaterhouseCoopers laid off several hundred workers, mostly information technology positions, and sent some jobs overseas while outsourcing others that remained in this country. Yet, as of early this month, the firm said it had 98 unfilled positions in Tampa.

Is Florida simply suffering from a broader trend of the recession? Among much of its chief economic competition, a spot check suggests not. In Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, for example, average worker earnings between January and May increased nearly 2 percent, 1 percent and 4 percent, respectively. In Texas, earnings were flat. (Kudos to the Broward-Palm Beach New Times for its coverage on this topic.)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who took office in January on a campaign of getting people back to work, is clearly enjoying a boost in new jobs in the Sunshine State. What's less transparent is whether his political promises will be met with the easy pickings of cheap, low-hanging jobs and a lower standard of living.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Trend or blip? Earnings of Floridians slipping this year 08/17/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 9:10pm]

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