Cedric Jones is young, African-American and doesn't have a college degree. ¶ In Florida's troubled labor market, that adds up to strike, strike… and strike. ¶ Jones was working in the produce department at a local Sam's Club much of the past year. But what started out as 35 to 40 hours a week quickly fizzled into fewer than 20 hours a week. ¶ "You can't survive on that," said the 21-year-old Chamberlain High School graduate, who's been out looking for a new job the past three months. "You make more off of unemployment."
Jones, who doesn't qualify for unemployment benefits, collects food stamps to help make ends meet.
His job struggle underscores what's been a widening gap in Florida's labor force between the haves and have-nots — a discrepancy highlighted in Florida International University's annual Labor Day analysis.
"While higher educated workers in higher paying jobs appear to be doing fairly well and even gaining ground in wages, lower educated workers, African-American workers and young workers are still facing extremely high unemployment rates and wage decreases," FIU's "State of Working Florida" report concludes.
How big of a discrepancy is there?
• Younger workers are twice as likely to be jobless as older workers. The unemployment rate for Floridians aged 16 to 24 stood at 21.6 percent last year, a whopping 12.4 percentage point increase since 2007. For those in the prime working age of 25 to 54, the unemployment rate was 9.8 percent, up 6.5 percentage points.
• Unemployment rates appear to have leveled off last year for white workers while still rising for African-Americans and Hispanics.
• The median hourly wage for African-Americans has dropped 1.6 percent since 2007 while in the same period wages for white, non-Hispanics increased by 3.8 percent.
• Hourly wages for the bottom 20 percent of workers rose about 14 percent between 1979 and 2010 (from $8.68 to $9.89). Over the same time, those in the top 20 percent income bracket saw wages jump almost 32 percent ($20.25 to $25.65).
• The median hourly wages for whites and Hispanics statewide rose almost 4 percent and 5 percent, respectively, between 2007 and 2010. For African-Americans, the median wage fell 1.6 percent.
• Workers with a bachelor's degree or higher were the only group that had a drop in unemployment last year, falling from 6.2 percent to 5.4 percent. Both high school graduates and those that didn't finish high school saw their jobless rate increase significantly.
Jones has a high school diploma and is taking classes at Hillsborough Community College, which gives him at least one leg up among job seekers. Florida's unemployment rate for high school graduates in 2010 was 14.3 percent compared to a stunning 23.1 percent for those without a high school diploma.
During the worst point of the recession, Florida's unemployment rate reached 12 percent last December with 1.1 million people out of work. The rate has since receded to 10.7 percent, but the improvement has been slow and uneven across geography and industry. A handful of counties — Marion, Flagler, Hendry and Hernando — saw jobless rates peak near 14 percent and still suffer far worse than the state's urban centers.
An unequal recovery holds true for wages as well. The FIU report noted, for instance, that higher-paying industries such as management, wholesale trade and manufacturing saw an average increase of 1.9 percent in wages from 2009 to 2010. In contrast, lower-paying industries including hotels and food service, retail trade and administrative and waste management posted a mere 0.54 percent increase in hourly wages.
Demand for workers, moreover, has been no guarantee of higher pay. In fact, some of the fastest-growing industries — like accommodation and food services— paid much less than industries like construction and manufacturing that were still shedding jobs.
In conjunction with the recession, the report pointed out, Florida saw its share of residents without health care coverage rise from 17.8 percent to 22.4 percent, ranking second-highest in the country.
Florida also posted the largest increase in poverty among states between 2007 and 2009, an increase of 2.8 percentage points.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.