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October 11, 2003
ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida may be leading the nation in nonagricultural employment growth, but a large percentage of those jobs in the private sector are considered low wage because they compensate well below the state's average annual pay.
Two-fifths of the private-sector jobs Florida gained during the past year fell into job sectors where the average annual pay was under $24,297, according to a review of labor statistics by The Associated Press. The 39,000 jobs in those sectors are paid less than 75 percent of Florida's average annual pay of $32,397.
Bruce Nissen, director of research at Florida International University in Miami's Center for Labor Research and Studies, said he isn't surprised that low-paying jobs dominate the new positions being created.
"The Achilles heel is the structure dependent on leisure, hospitality and retail sales," said Nissen, an economist.
Katherine Brooks' job was one of the 17,300 jobs created in Florida's leisure and hospitality industry, which has an annual average pay of $17,106, among the lowest-paying sectors in the state.
Brooks, 25, took a job last June working behind the counter at The Coffee House at Thornton Park, a trendy Orlando neighborhood, when she couldn't find a position in historic preservation, her area of study at Louisiana State University. The recent graduate expects to earn under $12,000 this year working 30-hour weeks. She moved to Orlando to be with her fiance, who works for a video game company and pays for most of the household expenses.
"Would I be able to support myself in this job? Absolutely not," Brooks said. "I wouldn't even be able to afford rent."
The rest of the newly created private-sector jobs in Florida were split between sectors considered middle-of-the-road on the pay scale and higher paying jobs. Under a third of the jobs (30,800 positions) fell into sectors that paid between $24,297 and $40,496, and more than a quarter of the jobs (27,800 positions) fell into sectors that had an average annual pay higher than $40,496, or 125 percent of the state's average annual pay, according to the review.
On the other end of the wage scale, 41-year-old Randy Smith of Orlando landed a $77,000-a-year engineering job after being unemployed nearly two years. In his new job, Smith has the potential to earn an additional $22,000 over his base salary.
He had tried a career switch into sales but couldn't find anything. He relied on savings, unemployment benefits, credit cards and his wife's working a part-time job to support his family of three children, now ages 18, 16, and 12.
Now that he's employed again, earning the same amount as in his previous job, he thinks the job market is improving slowly.
"I always joke that when you're out of a job, the unemployment rate just went to 100 percent," he said. "At that instant you don't care about anybody but yourself."
Florida had a net gain of 90,500 jobs in the past year; more than 127,000 jobs were created, while about 36,500 jobs were lost. The state labor agency, the Agency for Workforce Innovation, does not have a standard for what are considered high- and low-paying jobs. But the state only offers money to economic development projects that are going to pay over 115 percent of the state's average annual pay of $32,397, or more than $37,200.
"It is what it is," Warren May, an agency spokesman, said when asked about the number of low paying jobs. "Some states lost more of the high-paying jobs than we did because of their greater losses in transportation, utilities and information."
Leading Florida's job growth in the past year were job placement services (average annual pay of $21,511), local government (average annual pay of $38,280) and construction specialty trade contractors (average annual pay of $30,131).
Florida's population growth of about 1,000 people a day has contributed to the boom in construction. Local government was fueled by construction, cutbacks in federal and state government positions that shifted responsibilities to the local level and added security responsibilities for local municipalities since the Sept. 11 attacks.
There were mixed explanations for the 27,000 positions created in job placement services, such as those offered by firms like Manpower Inc.
David Lenze, an economist at the University of Florida, said companies often turn to job placement firms when they're uncertain about the direction of the economy. May, on the other hand, said those jobs are a leading indicator of future hiring since companies turn to those firms before permanently putting workers on their payrolls.
Don Langmo, the president of an Orlando-based job placement firm, has found it impossible in recent months to keep pace with demand. He's only able to fill one out of three job requests for full-time health care workers and half the requests for professional and administrative positions.
"People were holding off last year," said Langmo, president of Healthcare Support Staffing. "Now they can't afford to hold off."
Sectors that lost the most jobs were in manufacturing (average annual pay of $39,323), information technology (average annual pay of $46,154) and transportation (average annual pay of $34,384).
Nationwide, manufacturing and information jobs have been slumping. Manufacturers have dealt with economic hard times at home and abroad, and they have struggled to compete with a flood of imported goods. Information jobs have dried up with the burst of the tech bubble. Transportation jobs were cut primarily in the airline industry.
Gov. Jeb Bush said he is proud that Florida has led the nation in job growth.
"In the longer term, we need to invest in higher paying jobs that are there for us to take advantage of," Bush said in an e-mail response to The Associated Press.
Florida has three or four "big" opportunities for economic development, Bush said earlier this month. State officials are negotiating with a California-based biotech company to open operations in Florida and are considering helping Raytheon Co. chase a $6 billion contract to build a satellite-communications system for the military in Florida that would bring about 700 jobs to the Tampa area.
The state, which had an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent in August, is faring much better than the rest of the nation when it comes to employment. The national unemployment rate last month was 6.1 percent. Florida's nearest competition in job growth came from Georgia, which had a net gain of 50,900 jobs during the past year.
But the job growth didn't keep pace with Florida's dizzying population growth, and the job growth has done nothing to change Florida's disproportionate reliance on low-wage jobs, some economists say.
"It needs to get better," Nissen said. "We're not doing what needs to be done in Florida."