April 17, 2024
A hint of maturity? - Florida's jobs picture

Photo: Jeff Papa

Special Jobs Report

A hint of maturity? - Florida's jobs picture

Take note: Florida's jobs recovery hasn't been dominated by construction jobs and real estate development.

Amy Martinez | 12/26/2014

Florida's not back yet.

The state lost about 10% of all its jobs during the recession, among the worst declines nationwide, and is still one of 21 states that haven't gained back all of the jobs they had before the recession. Only three of Florida's 10 major sectors — leisure and hospitality, education and health services, and professional and business services — employ at least as many people as they did before the recession.

One traditional mainstay, construction, is a notable laggard. Even as demand for some building trades surges ahead of a projected pickup in population growth, Florida has about one-third fewer construction jobs than in 2007. Florida's construction sector still represents only 5% of employment statewide, down from 8% before the recession.

Most job sectors, however, are clearly moving in the right direction. Non-farm payrolls grew 3% last year and have recovered to within 3% of pre-recession levels. There are plenty of bright spots:

The tourism industry, which rebounded quickly from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, has led Florida's economy throughout the recession. Between 2007 and 2014, the leisure and hospitality sector has increased its share of total employment in Florida from 12% to 14%.

The state's education and health services sector has expanded by 13%.

Among the three sectors that have made a full jobs recovery, professional and business services boasts the best average annual pay, at nearly $53,000.

The financial sector, which includes real estate selling and leasing, has added back about 45,000 jobs statewide, just 5% shy of a full recovery.

Reflecting the state's regional nature, the jobs recovery is unevenly distributed geographically, but two communities stand out. By early 2014, Orange County had recovered all of the jobs it lost and gained 32,330, a 5% increase. Miami-Dade County was up by more than 18,200 jobs, or about 2%. Together, Miami-Dade and Orange counties accounted for 23% of total employment statewide last year, up from 21% in 2007.

The ongoing recovery of Florida's job market doesn't appear to reflect any radical transformation of the state's economy. "We're still dependent on people taking vacations here and people moving here and buying houses," says Chris Mc- Carty, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Florida.

But the numbers do suggest Florida's economy hasn't waited on a new real estate boom to get better.

Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner believes the Great Recession had a silver lining for Florida. Faced with less in-migration, the state looked to find new paths toward economic growth and became more competitive in attracting and retaining businesses, he says.

As examples, Vitner points to an influx of hedge funds and private equity firms in south Florida, the continued growth of a life sciences cluster at Medical City in Orlando, Hertz's headquarters move to Lee County from New Jersey and a dredging project at the Port of Jacksonville to accommodate bigger ships.

"Today, growth is slower, but we seem to be growing in the right ways," Vitner says. "The recession certainly drove home the point that we needed to make some changes pretty quickly."

Vitner says Florida's prospects look brighter than at "any time going back to the 1990s." He and Wells Fargo predict that Florida will return to pre-recession employment levels by late this year or early 2016.

Florida's Unemployment Rate

Florida entered the recession in late 2007 with an unemployment rate in the mid-4% range. Joblessness peaked at 11.4% in early 2010 and has since slowly declined. As of October, the state's unemployment rate stood at 6.0%, slightly above the U.S. average of 5.8%.

Unemployment would be in double digits, however, if so-called involuntary part-time workers and the discouraged jobless also were included. The official unemployment rate measures the prevalence of people who actively seek a job but can't find one. If you count part-time workers who prefer to be full time, as well as unemployed people who have stopped looking for work because of a perceived lack of jobs, unemployment in Florida is actually around 13.4%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, it's around 12.5%.

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