Government job growth outpaces private sector in Miami-Dade
By Frank Norton
Miami-Dade County is emerging from the sharp economic decline following Sept. 11 but growth in government jobs is outpacing growth in the private sector, according to the Beacon Council.
The number of non-agricultural jobs countywide fell by about 1,000 to 1.04 million from March 2001 to the same month this year while government and education added 4,100 jobs, an increase of 3.7%, according to the council, which is the county's economic development organization.
Much of the growth in government jobs is thought to be from new teachers, but some local experts say the disparity between the sectors warrants a closer look. University of Miami Economics Department Chair Michael Connolly said the trend is not promising.
"The growth in government jobs and shrinkage in the private sector could be a bad thing" as long as local government's ability to spend productively remains in question, he said. "People should put their money in the private sector."
"The degree to which that increase represents an increase in local government is distressing," said Philip Blumberg, a real estate executive and former chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. "But if it's additional spending on teachers and higher education, as the case may be, then that would address the county's needs."
After peaking at 8.4% in November, the jobless rate in Miami-Dade eased to 7.2% in March but is still well above the 6.8% benchmark figure of August 2001. The statistics are part of a quarterly economic overview by the Beacon Council.
The top growth industries in the period measured were local government - including education, health services and business services, which together generated nearly 11,000 jobs.
State Rep. Annie Betancourt, also a member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce education committee, said most of the government growth resulted from hiring teachers, a vocation she says is in short supply.
"We need a prepared workforce to compete globally and the key is going to be education," Ms. Betancourt said.
With respect to the broader recession that was already under way by September '01, the hardest hit local industries were manufacturing, telecommunications and construction, which together accounted for 8,000 jobs lost between March in '01 and '02, according to the report. Manufacturing jobs, particularly in apparel, declined 6.2% while telecommunications and construction saw declines of 5.9% and 3.8%, respectively.
Shifting to international commerce, merchandise trade fell 15.6% in the first four months this year from the same period last year, which was blamed on economic and political turmoil in Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia.
Rep. Betancourt said however that international trade remains a growth engine for the future. It is because of our geography and trade, she said, that we have managed to stay afloat during past recessions.
She said banking, insurance and real estate are also potential economic stabilizers, as well as opportunities for reshaping higher education to better fit marketplace needs.
In terms of more basic job training, 70% of those enrolled in adult vocational programs in Miami-Dade were born outside the US, she said. "That means we also have a large number of people born abroad who want to enter the workforce and must be assimilated."
In terms of refocusing policy, Rep. Betancourt and Mr. Connolly said higher education in South Florida must improve the tracking of local business needs - in Miami's case, international banking and trade finance.
"We have some very good banks here and they tend to hire from outside our higher education system. We need to do a better job," Mr. Connolly said.
Shifting to the impact of 9/11, the Beacon Council report showed the visitor and aviation industries being hardest hit. Despite rebounding sharply from immediate post-9/11 levels, passenger traffic at Miami International Airport during the first four months this year remained down about 12% compared to the same period a year ago.
Hotel occupancy, a proxy for the hospitality industry, also rebounded sharply from crisis levels but still dropped 8% between Aprils.
The report concludes that any further recovery in the visitor and aviation industries will depend on an increase in the number of US and international travelers passing through Miami.