Everybody knows Florida isn't creating enough jobs to dent its double-digit unemployment. But there's something you might not know that's even more distressing: The few jobs that have been created pay far less than the ones we've lost.
A St. Petersburg Times analysis of jobs and income data over the past year indicates Florida hasn't just stalled in its mission to become a higher-wage state. It has gone backward.
Here's one gauge: Add up lost jobs in Florida's hardest-hit industries over the past year. Then factor in salary estimates for each category from the U.S. Department of Labor. The average pay for a lost job among the top five industries turns out to be $49,884.
Now do the same exercise for the industries that are creating the most new jobs. The average wages per job?
About 31 percent less.
All the biggest job-losing industries last year had a mean average pay above $44,500. Of the four top job-creators, only one industry (health care) paid above that mark.
One expert says a similar story line is playing out elsewhere in the country.
"The picture nationally seems to be one where growth has been skewed to mid-wage and especially lower-wage industries," said Annette Bernhardt, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers.
"At least right now, we're not yet seeing key-wage industries such as construction, finance and information come back strong enough, especially given that these were the sectors that saw some of the biggest losses in 2008 and 2009."
Stagnation in higher wage jobs, she said, is different from the aftermath of the 2001 recession, "which wasn't a strong recovery by any measure, but at least it was more balanced and evenly distributed."
This time, about a third of newly created jobs have been temps or contingency workers.
That makes life harder for former higher-wage earners trying to re-enter the labor market anywhere near their past salary levels.
People like Roy Raven.
Raven was a financial adviser affiliated with Raymond James Financial for 13 years, right up until the markets seized up in the fall of 2008. He thought that he would find a similar job with another bank. Any job with another bank. But that didn't happen.
His securities license lapsed after two years out of the business. He wound up working for a Clearwater company that sells energy contracts to businesses around the country. Take-home pay was $400 to $500 a week — about $25,000 a year. At Raymond James, his annual income fluctuated between $50,000 and $70,000, depending on commissions.
"I've seen bad times before, but this is absolutely horrible," he said.
Raven worries that many of his fellow jobless won't get back to work any time soon and, if they do, their pay will be a fraction of what they were earning.
"They're not bouncing back," he said. "Everything they had accumulated before is being depleted. At one time, people's retirement was their homes, so they piled everything into their homes to have a place to sell and have a nest egg when they moved to a smaller place. Those days are gone."
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Not long ago, Florida set its sights on evolving into a state of higher-paying jobs.
That was the mantra of former Gov. Jeb Bush. In 2003, he lured research giant Scripps Research to open a life science facility in Jupiter with dreams of nurturing a biotech cluster. For his successor, Charlie Crist, the vision of higher-paying jobs meant turning Florida into a hot spot for alternative and renewable energy technologies.
Then the recession struck.
Florida's new governor, Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson, meanwhile, says Florida's focus should not be on income levels of newly created jobs, but where salaries will be five or 10 years out. And that means overhauling the state's education system to "home-grow" talent for the work force of the future. "You want sustainable jobs," Wilson said.
In the Tampa Bay area, economic development leaders are promoting a job-creation strategy hinged to six higher-paying industry clusters: life sciences/medical services; research/engineering services; financial transactions/services; information tech/electronics; aerospace, defense and national security; and business services.
But that's long-term.
Last year was the first year Florida posted any meaningful employment gains outside of health care, and little happened in those higher-paid clusters. Restaurants, hotels, retail, entertainment and other services accounted for nearly 50,000 jobs created between December 2009 and December 2010. Add in health care and subtract jobs lost in other industries, and the state's work force increased a modest 43,500 jobs over the year.
The salary trade-off raises the question: Is any job necessarily better than no job?
Economist Scott Brown of Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg contends "it's better just to have jobs in general" to cut into Florida's unemployment rate, which has been hovering for two months near a record 12 percent.
But labor market economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, said the answer isn't that simple, especially if you're a job seeker. Sure, it's easier to find a job if you're already working. But if you switch careers or settle for a lower salary, it may be more difficult to eventually secure your dream job.
Both economists agree the deterioration of labor unions and a weak labor market for months to come will give workers much less bargaining power and job quality will continue to suffer. "The work will come back," Shierholz said, "but not the compensation packages."
They agree on another point as well: The longer someone is out of work, the harder it is to get back to a similar-paying job.
In a recent analysis, researchers from Florida International University and the Research Institute on Social & Economic Policy pointed out that more than one-third of unemployed Floridians in 2010 had been out of work more than a year. Nearly half were unemployed for at least six months.
One of those long-term jobless, Chris Markham of Tarpon Springs, says he has noticed a bias against sidelined workers. They're viewed as damaged goods, as people who have lost their edge or need to be retrained.
"We're discriminated against," said Markham, 49. "Executive recruiters, headhunters … if you're unemployed, most of them won't even touch you."
As director of merchandise administration and financing at HSN, the home shopping network, Markham made more than $100,000 a year. He would feel fortunate to find any financial job in the $60,000 to $80,0000 range, but has been striking out.
It's not for lack of trying.
With his wife working as a middle school teacher, Markham went back to school to get his MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management. He's a voracious networker, researching prospects online every day and meeting regularly with groups such as the Tampa Bay Executive Forum.
He gets discouraged, however, when 90 of the 100 people at a networking event are looking for a job. Meanwhile, most job prospects he does hear about are for meager pay.
"They're going to pay maybe $15 an hour," he said. "In this market, you're not going to find a house. You're not going to be able to pay your bills on that kind of salary."
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Personal income in Florida grew at a below-average pace of 2.4 percent in the first nine months following a 2.3 percent income drop in 2009. A survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research organization, concluded that four in 10 Americans live lives of economic struggle, and worry about whether they'll keep a middle-class life in the long term.
Markham said he tries to remind himself "there's more to life than money in your savings account." Even as he holds out hope.
The state forecasts personal income will grow 3.5 percent this fiscal year, and a group of Florida economists predicts unemployment will decline slightly to 11 percent by year-end and gradually improve from there.
"You still have to think it's just going to turn around," Markham said. "Hopefully this should be the year, but you've said 'This will be the year' before."
Jeff Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ jeffmharrington.