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How Florida's jobs picture has changed since heady days before the Great Recession

Job seekers wait in a Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa parking lot last month. The hotel and casino was looking to hire 1,200 full- and part-time workers. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
Job seekers wait in a Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa parking lot last month. The hotel and casino was looking to hire 1,200 full- and part-time workers. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Jul. 25

Florida released another favorable employment report last week — 16,100 jobs added in June and an anemic 3.4 percent unemployment rate.

The report continues a steady run of job creation that dates back to the aftermath of the Great Recession, when unemployment hit 11.3 percent and 800,000 jobs vanished like steam.

The state is on much sounder footing now. But how about compared to before the recession? How does the jobs picture stack up to 2006, just as the state economy started its nosedive?

That year, unemployment hit 3.1 percent, the lowest rate since at least 1976, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median incomes hit all-time highs, adjusted for inflation. Talk about good times.

The state hasn't returned to those lofty marks, though the long economic expansion may have enough legs left to drive the unemployment rate lower. And wages, stagnant for years, have picked up recently.

Whatever happens next, the past 13 years have already reshaped the way we work. The labor force has reached 10.3 million people, an increase of 1.4 million since 2006. Despite that, three of the state's 10 major jobs sectors haven't returned to pre-recession levels.

Information services, which includes legacy media like newspapers, is expected to shed more jobs for a few years before recovering thanks to the sector's high-tech components, including computer programmers and software developers. And it's hardly a surprise that manufacturing shrank, given the advances in automation and companies sending jobs overseas.

Construction remains the biggest laggard. In June 2006, 691,000 people worked in the industry. Today, it's a little less than 567,000. Put another way, construction once accounted for 8.6 percent of the state's jobs. Now, it's 6.3 percent.

RELATED: Construction still hasn't recovered from Great Recession.

The difference says a lot about the go-go days before the recession, driven by loose lending standards and rampant speculative building. Today, developers have more skin in the game.

Many construction workers left the industry after the recession, tired of the boom-and-bust cycle. Others reached retirement age. Either way, not as many young people want to swing hammers or install drywall. That leaves developers to compete for workers and subcontractors, which can lead to delays.

Three other sectors — government, financial and the catch all "other" — posted minor increases in the number of jobs. The gains were small enough that they didn't keep up with the growth in the overall labor market. As a result, they all now make up less of the total job pie than in 2006.

Same for trade, transportation and utilities. It remains the state's largest sector with nearly 1.8 million jobs, but it takes up a little less space in the state's jobs picture than it did 13 years ago.

Which industries are shoving the others aside?

The big winner was the education and health care sector. Already large, it gained another 369,000 jobs, growing even during the worst years of the downturn. The sector boasts 1.35 million workers, about 15 percent of the state's total.

A robust health care industry is good news, though much of the growth has come from lower-paying positions. A couple of examples: In the past two years, the number of home health aides grew from 25,569 to 32,960, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Psychiatric assistants more than doubled from 1,760 to 4,280. Both jobs pay an average of less than $12.50 an hour.

Over those same two years, the number of pharmacists fell while the number of pharmacy technicians grew. The former make $58 an hour on average. The latter, $15.50.

The leisure and hospitality sector also grew a lot since 2006, but it too suffered from adding jobs that don't pay very well. On the plus side, low-wage service sector jobs — and many health care careers — appear less likely to be lost to automation, at least in the short term. They involve manual tasks and human interactions that aren't easily replicated by current technologies.

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Finally, business and professional services added nearly 250,000 jobs, increasing its slice of the state's labor pie to more than 15.5 percent. The sector pays well, but it has its challenges. For one, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are expected to take over the rote aspects of the accounting and legal professions.

In the next 13 years, Florida could add up to 5 million more people, further expanding the labor pool. The state should not settle for a disproportionate number of low-skilled, low-wage jobs. That means an all-out effort to bolster talent. No amount of tax incentives will overcome a dearth of well-educated and well-trained workers. We need to be ready to take on high-tech or high-skilled jobs, some of which don't exist yet.

By 2032, the state must have a nimble workforce capable of capturing its share of the best jobs.

Contact Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com. Follow @GrahamBrink.

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