Yes, Florida has been gaining jobs. But low pay remains a problem for millions of workers

By: - June 12, 2019 7:03 am

Minimum wage workers. PBS screenshot.

Like his predecessor, Gov. Ron DeSantis likes to talk about Florida’s job growth.

It’s been a positive story. Last month, the Republican governor announced Florida had gained some 16,700 jobs in April over the prior month, with a statewide unemployment rate of 3.4 percent.

“We have to keep taxes low, regulations reasonable and support career and technical education to ensure Floridians are able to achieve long-term economic prosperity,” DeSantis said in a written statement.

DeSantis has not been as relentless in promoting state job numbers as former Gov. Rick Scott. But the two governors have one thing in common in what they don’t talk about: how much people get paid for those jobs.

It’s likely because the growth of wages in the nation’s third-largest state is not as robust of a narrative as the job figures.

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the annual average salary for Floridians was $46,010 as of May 2018. (It’s a slightly higher average than the year before – by 2.72 percent).

But compared to the rest of the nation, Florida’s average annual paycheck lags. It’s nearly 12 percent lower than the $51,960 national average, government data shows.

The statewide paycheck average includes tens of thousands of Floridians who make much less than the average and can struggle to meet the everyday needs of their families.

Some examples from the federal data:

–waiters and waitresses: $26,120.

–home health aides: $24,280.

–maids and housekeepers: $23,300.

–amusement park attendants: $22,610.

–retail sales: $26,790.

–carpenters: $40,660.

–heavy-truck drivers: $42,020.

–pre-school teachers: $27,990.

–high-school teachers: $54,120.

To put those numbers into context, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a “Living Wage Calculator.” Based on data from each state, it estimates a cost of living, including food, child care, health care, housing and other expenses.

In Florida, a single mother raising two children would need a before-taxes salary of $60,757 to meet the living standard, according to the calculator. That would be difficult to do for a parent working as a home-health aide ($24,280) or as a sales person ($26,790).

With more training and education, some Floridians are in a better financial position to enjoy a higher standard of living, the salary survey shows. They include high-demand jobs like registered nurses ($66,210) and software developers ($95,610).

At the top of the salary survey are doctors and other health-care practitioners, including anesthesiologists ($280,390) and surgeons ($211,640).

Chief executives in Florida’s corporate world earn an average paycheck of $187,870, the salary survey shows.

But the federal data does not include salaries paid in the form of stock, which is often a major contributor to executive pay. It was demonstrated in recent Tampa Bay Times story on the pay for Florida’s top 50 CEOs.

One example was Rick Beckwitt, head of the Lennar Corp, a Miami-based home builder. He earned $800,000 in salary but was also paid $16.8 million in stock options and other awards, according to the story.

The federal corporate tax cut, signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2017, has accelerated the value of corporate stock used to pay executives.

The tax cut was promoted as means to boost job growth. Yet the main result is that corporations bought back more than $1 trillion of their own stock, with the aim of increasing its price, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

In 2018, major U.S. corporations spent more than $1.1 trillion “to repurchase their stock rather than invest in new plants and equipment or pay their workers more,” the center says.

The 2019 Florida Legislature passed a bill (HB 7127) that could provide more than a $300 million tax break to Florida corporations as a result of the ongoing impact of the 2017 federal tax law, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Rep. Evan Jenne, a Broward County Democrat who voted against the bill, said the legislation is an example of how Florida’s fiscal policy favors corporations over ordinary wage earners.

“None of it will end up saving the average Floridian any money whatsoever,” Jenne said, according to the report. “Every year they make a big deal about their tax cuts, but at the end of the day typically they’re for the very wealthy and for large corporations.”

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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.