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This Labor Day, how is Florida’s workforce holding up?

Florida’s economy relies on some of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic.
Visitors, many of them locals, have been returning to Clearwater Beach, breathing life into Florida's economy.
Visitors, many of them locals, have been returning to Clearwater Beach, breathing life into Florida's economy. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sep. 4, 2020
Updated Sep. 6, 2020

Florida’s labor force today is more spread across different industries than it was in prior decades. But many of the Sunshine State’s workers are still concentrated in the types of jobs that have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic.

And many of them are looking for employment or banking fewer hours this Labor Day.

“Florida has come a long way in the last 20 years from a diversification standpoint, but we’re still overly reliant on tourism and construction and growth in general,” said Will Weatherford, managing partner of private investment firm Weatherford Capital and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. “We’ve got to find a way to diversify our way out of that.”

Those employment groups took some of the hardest hits during the initial phases of the pandemic.

Abi "Angelfish" Howard, left, a crew member on the 'Pirate's Ransom' with Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise boats, primps a pirate's hat for two-year-old Celeste Orozco, of Chicago, Ill, before the boat left port on Wednesday from the Clearwater Marina boardwalk.
Abi "Angelfish" Howard, left, a crew member on the 'Pirate's Ransom' with Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise boats, primps a pirate's hat for two-year-old Celeste Orozco, of Chicago, Ill, before the boat left port on Wednesday from the Clearwater Marina boardwalk. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, there were 460,500 fewer leisure and hospitality jobs, which includes entertainment and food, this May than there were in the same month last year, a nearly 37 percent drop. Retail also shed almost 100,000 jobs year-over-year in May.

Although these sectors have started to claw their way back up in the months since then, they were still underwater in July.

And while other areas of the economy, such as motor and recreational vehicle sales, are helping Florida achieve a partial recovery, those gains often don’t help those looking for work.

Adding to the pain: Industries that shed the most jobs in Florida are among the lowest paying. So those out of work are more likely to have less in savings to weather the storm.

A watercraft is launched from Clearwater Beach Waverunner Rentals based at the Clearwater Marina boardwalk on Clearwater Bay on Wednesday.
A watercraft is launched from Clearwater Beach Waverunner Rentals based at the Clearwater Marina boardwalk on Clearwater Bay on Wednesday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“The people that have had the biggest burden are the least able to shoulder that kind of burden with job loss,” said Scott Brown, senior economist with Raymond James Financial.

Bob Morrison, the head of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association, said that at the start of the pandemic the tourism industry was pushing the state to fix the benefits system so it could help hotel employees suddenly out of work. But some of those workers were able to lean on federal programs that have since ended.

“Time has healed some of those gaps,” Morrison said. “The challenge becomes, as we have new rounds of eligible team members, they don’t have that federal support and Florida is one of the lowest paying unemployment compensation benefit states in the country.”

By some measurements, Florida may not have seen the worst of it yet. Lisa Castellano, a Tampa bankruptcy lawyer and partner at Genovese Joblove & Battista, said once banks’ forbearance programs for mortgage payments expire she expects there to be a major uptick in bankruptcy filings from the hardest-hit industries — and not just by major chains like Stein Mart.

“We see the big names out there because they get the notoriety but I think there’s going to be a lot of the smaller to mid-size businesses as well,” she said. “A lot of mom-and-pops, I don’t think they’re going to be able to make it.”

Sunglasses lay in baskets for sale on Wednesday at the Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise kiosk at the Clearwater Marina boardwalk on Clearwater Beach.
Sunglasses lay in baskets for sale on Wednesday at the Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise kiosk at the Clearwater Marina boardwalk on Clearwater Beach. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Some sectors were better able to weather the changes. Finance and insurance lost less than 1,500 jobs between January and May. Many tech jobs already had experience being remote.

Here’s the average hourly wage and average annual wage as of spring 2019 for common positions in some of the hardest hit industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Food Services

Bartenders: $12.72 an hour; $26,460 annually

Restaurant cooks: $13.81; $28,730

Servers: $12.66; $26,340

Dishwashers: $10.96; $22,810

Retail

Cashiers: $11.08 an hour; $23,050 annually

Retail salesperson: $13.35; $27,760

Retail sales supervisors: $22.17; $46,110

Hospitality

Concierge: $13.70 an hour; $28,500 annually

Tour and travel guides: $14.94; $31,080

Lodging manager: $29.92; $62,230

Amusement and recreation attendants: $11.23; $23,360

• • •

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