Florida’s jobs picture appears strong. How does it compare to other big states?

How the state stacks up on factors including job creation and wages.
With the state unemployment rate at 3.3. percent, most Florida residents who want a job either have one or can find one fairly easily.
With the state unemployment rate at 3.3. percent, most Florida residents who want a job either have one or can find one fairly easily. [ PATRICK SEMANSKY | AP ]
Published Sept. 10, 2019

By many measures, Florida’s employment picture looks good. The state’s workforce has grown and unemployment has plummeted. Even wages have improved, outpacing inflation.

Florida is in a better place than five years ago. But how do we compare to the five other most-populated states — California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois?

Let’s start with the most common benchmark: the unemployment rate, the percentage of people who are able and willing to work but can’t find a job.

Florida posted a 3.3 percent rate in July, the latest month available. That ranks 16th in the nation, far behind top placed Vermont at 2.1 percent. But it’s good enough to be No. 1 among the Big Six, just ahead of Texas at 3.4 percent. Illinois pulled up the rear of the Big Six at 4.2 percent, low by historical standards but mediocre during these heady days of near record low unemployment.

RELATED STORY: Here’s why milk costs more in Florida.

Florida has also created new jobs nearly ever month for the past five years. In other words, more people were employed than the previous month, save for a blip in September 2017 when Hurricane Irma shut down large swaths of the state.

Over that period, California created more jobs than any of its Big Six competitors — not surprising given its much-larger population. But Florida’s workforce grew by 15 percent to just over 9 million people, beating California (12 percent) and Texas (11 percent), according to an analysis of federal employment data. Many economists think Florida will keep creating new jobs well into next year, if not longer.

Florida also compares well when it comes to the number of laid off workers seeking unemployment insurance, often referred to as jobless claims. The measure can help predict where a state’s economy is headed. More claims means fewer people with money to spend. Consumer spending is a major part of every state’s economy.

Less than 37,000 Florida workers applied for benefits during the week ending Aug. 31, by far the fewest among the Big Six, according to the Department of Labor. Illinois was second-lowest at almost 85,000. Put another way, a paltry 1 out of every 585 Floridians applied for unemployment benefits that week. The next closest was Texas at 1 out of every 234 residents. Pennsylvania was worst off at 1 out of every 117.

A caveat: Florida is a cheapskate when it comes to handing out unemployment benefits. We pay less per week, and workers are eligible for fewer weeks, than most other states. Florida also makes it difficult to qualify. Less than one in nine of Florida’s jobless workers collect benefits, according to information from the U.S. Department of Labor. Only North Carolina makes it harder. The scrooge-like reputation discourages some workers from applying at all.

What about wages? There are a lot of ways to measure what people get paid. For the Big Six breakdown, I used average hourly wages. It doesn’t account for inflation or cost of living, but it works fine for this simple comparison.

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Florida had the lowest hourly wage five years ago and today. Hardly shocking to anyone who has lived here for a while. But there’s an upside. The state is closing the gap on a couple of the lower-paying members of the Big Six. At $25.54 an hour, Florida is within breathing distance of Pennsylvania at $25.90 and Texas at $25.95. California led the way at $32.40.

Florida’s hourly wage grew by 14 percent since 2014, second behind California’s 18 percent growth. Florida’s median household income grew even faster than its hourly wage, though that data only goes through the end of 2017.

Going forward, Florida must cultivate more high quality, well-paying jobs. But for now, the state stacks up fairly well against its largest rivals.