Romano: In Florida's race for new jobs, shouldn't quality count, too?

Published Oct. 14, 2015

They spend a lot of time in Tallahassee counting jobs.

The governor puts out regular updates detailing how many private-sector jobs were created that month, and how many total jobs have come to Florida since he was elected.

This is important stuff, and I do not want to make light of it. Growing the economy is obviously an important endeavor, and Gov. Rick Scott devotes much of his attention to it.

But does his strategy miss the mark?

While Scott is laser-focused on the number of jobs in Florida, maybe we should pay more attention to the quality of our jobs.

Because, if you dig through Bureau of Labor Statistics data, you could make a pretty good argument that the average Florida worker is, comparatively speaking, in worse shape today than before Scott took office.

See for yourself:

Back in 2010, as the nation was beginning its recovery from the recession, the average annual salary in the United States was $45,559. In Florida, it was $40,970. That translated to about 10 percent less for Florida workers than the national average.

As the economy improved, average wages went up. In 2014, the U.S. average was $51,364. In Florida, it was $44,803. Somehow, the average Floridian now earned 12.7 percent less than the average American.

In other words, Florida workers had smaller paychecks, relative to the rest of the country, than the year Scott took office.

If you want to get into even more detail, every state has seen its average salary rise from 2010. But Florida has grown at a slower pace than all but one other state.

This may explain what Amy Baker, the state's chief economist, was talking about last week when she told the Legislature that recruiting out-of-state jobs may not be as important as increasing existing wages.

And this may explain what residents meant when a recent USF/Nielsen survey suggested more than 70 percent of Floridians still have some level of financial stress.

"The economic recovery is not being felt by the middle class,'' said USF political science professor Susan McManus. "They have a sense that the economy overall is better, but if you ask them personally, you get a very different answer.''

Clearly, some of this is caused by Florida's reliance on tourism, and all the low-paying service jobs that come with it. No governor can change that dynamic overnight.

Sean Snaith, the director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness, also said Florida's recession lasted longer than the rest of the nation's because of the housing crisis, which could slow wage growth.

He said Scott's strategy to use incentives and tax breaks to pursue out-of-state jobs is no different from what other governors do, and it has clear benefits.

"We're making progress and we are diversifying the types of jobs,'' Snaith said. "But you can't change the entire structure of an economy in a few years, so progress may be difficult to note when you're looking at broad numbers.''

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This may be true, but it's also true that Scott's office doesn't seem to dwell, at least publicly, on whether jobs provide health insurance or pay a living wage.

It's almost as if there is a chart on an office wall that allows the administration to check off every new job as simply a means to fulfilling a campaign promise.

If it is trickle-down economics that the governor is pushing, there's hardly been a drip for the common worker in Florida. To attract better jobs, a greater emphasis on infrastructure and education could be more beneficial in the long run than corporate tax breaks.

Because, right now, too many people are putting in full workweeks and still finding themselves on the wrong side of the poverty line.

To them, this isn't a political slogan. It isn't fodder for fact checkers.

This is their lives, and the evidence suggests their income isn't getting better.