Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Business

Labor Day in Florida: Hey buddy, can you spare a 'good' job?

What is needed in our country today is not complicated or profound. It doesn't take a special government commission to tell us what America needs. What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.

— Mitt Romney, Thursday night's acceptance speech, Republican National Convention in Tampa.

• • •

Now there's something any presidential candidate can say that I agree with wholeheartedly.

If it were only that simple.

On a Labor Day weekend sandwiched between two national political conventions obsessed with boosting employment, let's look at how well we're generating more jobs — and what kinds of jobs they are.

Many people who found jobs after losing others are now earning less than before. In Florida, that's proving a big drag on the state's prosperity.

Florida not only has the nation's highest percentage rate of long-term unemployed but one of the worst reputations for helping those without jobs for more than six months.

Florida also is wrestling with a great mismatch. Despite more than 800,000 unemployed statewide, hundreds of companies complain they have technology jobs they can't fill because of a lack of qualified candidates.

That skills gap is not unique to Florida. But it's got workforce and economic development groups scrambling to coordinate what community colleges and other schools teach and what skills businesses say they need. Still, retraining obsolete workers and encouraging younger people to pursue more relevant educations like computer science will take years, perhaps decades, to produce significant results.

A burst of job studies, analyses and forecasts are just out that, at best, offer troubling outlooks for employment. Here's a sampling:

• Released today, The State of Working Florida 2012 provides a grim look at the status of jobs in this state by researchers at Florida International University.

"Our analysis finds Florida in bad shape," the report concludes. Recovery is slow and spotty.

"Florida lost 715,200 jobs in the Great Recession and has gained only 96,600 jobs since the recovery started," says the FIU report.

It gets worse.

"Florida has only recovered 13.5 percent of the jobs lost in the recession while the rest of the nation has recovered 34.6 percent of the jobs lost."

Despite Florida Gov. Rick Scott's upbeat "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" mantra started during his gubernatorial campaign, other states hit as hard as Florida or even harder in the recession are recovering at a much faster pace. We're falling behind Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and even battered California and Michigan, the report says.

States most damaged by the housing crash, like Florida and Georgia, are lagging. Florida's jobless rate rose to 8.8 percent in July from 8.6 percent in June, but is still down from 10.6 percent in July 2011.

Tampa Bay's jobless rate rose in July to 9.4 percent from 9 percent a month earlier, but remains lower than 11.3 percent in July 2011.

• Another new study from the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research and advocacy group, finds that big losses in middle-wage jobs occurred during the recession and have since been replaced by a recovery of low-wage jobs.

Adios, middle class America. Hello, increasing disparity and income inequality.

Florida is experiencing this big-time. Many new jobs are tied to our booming tourism industry. But the state's average annual wage in the leisure and hospitality industry last year was $22,070.

"While there's understandably a lot of focus on getting employment back to pre-recession levels, the quality of jobs is rapidly emerging as a second front in the struggling recovery," says study author Annette Bernhardt, policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project.

How bad is it?

Nationwide, the report found lower-wage occupations that pay $7.69 up to $13.83 an hour were 21 percent of recession losses but 58 percent of recovery growth.

Mid-wage occupations that pay $13.84 up to $21.13 an hour were 60 percent of recession losses but only 22 percent of recovery growth.

And higher-wage occupations that pay $21.14 up to $54.55 an hour were 19 percent of recession job losses and 20 percent of recovery growth.

The findings reflect what Tampa Bay Times writer Jeff Harrington reported about Florida's job recovery six months ago. As state unemployment falls, new jobs pay far less than the ones lost.

• At Moody's Analytics, forecasters expect the U.S. unemployment rate to dip from July's 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent this month and hit 8 percent by November when voters go to the polls to elect a new president.

But there's a catch, says Moody's. "While improving slowly, the U.S. job market is generating little wage income growth, which will be felt as rising gasoline and food prices test consumers' resilience."

So happy Labor Day, dear readers. Let's tighten our belts and go sharpen our skills.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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