Florida has 10 million-plus workers: Here’s a snapshot of who they are

By: - September 2, 2019 7:00 am

Workers in Miami-Dade County. The new Biden administration is pushing for COVID-related workplace safety rules. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Florida’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, older and better educated, according to a new Labor Day-related report from Florida International University.

With more than 10 million workers and a 3.3 percent unemployment rate as of July, Florida’s workforce has largely recovered from the impact of the Great Recession that reached its peak in the state about a decade ago.

But the report from FIU’s Center for Labor Research and Studies shows those gains have not been shared by all workers, including African-Americans and rural workers.

“As Florida’s economy has become a knowledge-driven economy with an increasingly more diverse workforce, the economic gains have not been spread evenly,” the report said. “A tight labor market and increases in productivity have only led to modest wage gains while historically marginalized groups, continue to face disproportionately lower labor market outcomes.”

Since 2009, Florida’s workforce has gotten older. About one out of every four workers was over the age of 55 in 2018. That’s an increase from one out of every five older workers in 2009, the report shows.

The workforce is more diverse. Hispanics have grown from over 21 percent of the workers to nearly 27 percent in 2018, the report shows. African-American workers account for 15.4 percent of the workforce, up from 14.2 percent in 2009.

The report shows that white workers had a 61 percent majority in 2009, dropping to 53.5 percent in 2018.

But FIU researcher Ali Bustamante also found that African-Americans face “disproportionately higher unemployment rates” in Florida.

In 2009, African-Americans had a 15.4 percent unemployment rate, compared to 8.9 percent for white workers. Since then, employment has improved for all the demographic groups, but “the relative disparity between African-American workers and white workers increased,” the researchers report.

Last year, white workers had a 2.8 percent unemployment rate in Florida, compared to 6.4 percent for African-Americans. “As a result, African-American workers are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unemployed,” the report said.

Florida workers are becoming more educated. Workers with a college degree increased from 30 percent in 2009 to 35.5 percent of the workforce last year, the report shows.

In another positive trend, workers without at least a high-school degree declined from 9 percent in 2009 to 7.2 percent in 2018..

But the report notes employment disparities between the better educated and less educated workers. Workers who had completed college had a 2.2 percent unemployment rate last year, compared to workers who did not have a high-school degree and faced a 7 percent unemployment rate.

“The latter is evidence of the need to increase the educational outcomes of vulnerable children and shore up the educational attainment of disenfranchised adult workers,” the report said.

The average pay for Florida workers has increased over the last decade. In 2018, the average pay was $51,605 a year, up from just under $45,000 in 2009.

However, large groups of workers remain in low-wage jobs, including those working in hotels and restaurants. The average pay for workers in “leisure and hospitality” jobs, which are a key component of Florida’s tourism industry, averaged only $32,677 in 2018.

The report also notes most of the higher-paying jobs are in Florida’s major cities, which, the report notes, “means that less populated areas throughout the state are getting left behind.”

One way to address the disparities among Florida workers, researcher Ali Bustamante noted, would be to increase the minimum wage.

Florida voters may get a chance next year to vote on a state constitutional amendment that would increase Florida’s minimum wage, over time, to $15 an hour. Florida’s current hourly minimum wage is $8.46.

“Increasing the state minimum wage will raise the earnings of workers in low-wage industries while also improving the earnings capabilities of those without higher levels of educational attainment,” the report said. “Furthermore, increasing the state minimum wage will provide less densely populated areas with greater economic activity that should stimulate local economies.”

The report also recommends increasing funding for Florida’s public-school system as well as state colleges and universities.

“Together, increasing the state minimum wage and state funding to public education will promote growth and broaden access to economic prosperity throughout the state,” the report said.

To view a copy of the report, click here.

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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.