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  1. Business

Trigaux: State of working Florida? Great — if you've got a job worth having

Two years ago, protesters gathered in support of increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour outside City Hall in St. Petersburg. The movement has not taken off here. For a majority of U.S. workers, wages have flatlined or declined since 1979. [


MONICA HERNDON | Times file photo]
Published Sep. 5, 2017

"The latest employment report reflects a rock-solid economy eight years after the end of the Great Recession. An influx of millions of new jobs has boosted the confidence of Americans, lined their pockets with more cash and induced them to spend more." — as reported by MarketWatch on Sept. 1

***

At first glance, the latest U.S. unemployment rate of 4.4 percent remains impressively low as the spending habits of most consumers continue to rise. It all makes for good reasons to savor this year's Labor Day. As the excerpt above of recent business coverage of our "rock-solid" economy attests: What's not to like?

The answer depends on whose eyes we look through. The overall unemployment rate for white workers is 3.8 percent. For black workers it's 7.4 percent. Even for college-educated workers, the recent average jobless rate was 2.5 percent for whites and 4.2 percent for blacks.

Yet even employed college grads are more often working at jobs that pay less and are in fields as diverse as Uber drivers and baristas that are not of their first choosing. As the New York Federal Reserve Bank recently noted, about 40 percent of recent college graduates are "underemployed" — often for a long time. To be blunt, a college education just isn't what it used to be.

Job skills and job markets? They are constantly changing. Here are three takeaways from the current job scene:

• Are we really making progress? While Florida's economic and employment levels have recovered from the Great Recession, economic security has not improved. So concludes this year's State of Working Florida, an annual bottom-up look by labor market researchers at Florida International and Loyola universities at how Floridians are faring in the workplace. More than 26 percent of Floridians are considered either "poor or near poverty." It's a disgracefully large slice of the state population that gets little attention.

"With few good jobs, the Florida economy is promoting low-wage and low-quality jobs at the expense of workers' economic security," the report states. Among its recommendations? Raise the state minimum wage. That would not only boost income but encourage more Floridians who are not working to re-enter the labor force. Another key point: In 2016, Florida per pupil education spending was $2,543 less than the national average. Since 2005, that gap has widened. We're falling behind.

• Nationally, only half of us are "satisfied" at work. For the first time since 2005, (barely) more than half (51 percent) of U.S. workers say they're satisfied with their jobs — even if that mostly means they have less fear of being fired these days, reports the Conference Board research group. The reality is, after years of massive layoffs, little or no wage increases and weaker benefits, workers may simply be lowering their job expectations. It's disturbing — and a blow to economic productivity — to look at the flip side and realize 49 percent of workers report some level of dissatisfaction.

• Why are wages stagnant for so many employees? For a majority of U.S. workers, wages have flatlined or declined since 1979. Over the last dozen years, that stagnation has spread to include many college-educated workers. Cost-obsessed companies are wary after the withering recession to raise wages — even as they complain the jobless rate is now so low that it is hard to find new, skilled workers. Frankly, companies learned a dirty little secret during the recession they are eager to preserve: Eliminating employee expectations of any tradition of receiving annual raises provides a great bump to the bottom line.

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