Miami-Dade County education, healthcare jobs reach all-time high
By Zachary S. Fagenson
While current Miami-Dade unemployment has risen to 11.8%, the number of jobs here in education and healthcare last month hit their highest point in history.
Preliminary estimates by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report about 157,200 workers between those sectors in October. That's a .8% increase from September and a 1.03% increase from October 2008.
Although that number has varied since the beginning of the year, starting with 154,200 workers in the two sectors in January and dipping to 152,200 in July, the long-term growth is welcome in a county where unemployment jumped from 6.3% to 11.8% in 14 months.
In education some, like economist and St. Thomas University business school Dean J. Antonio Villamil, said the increased number of jobs could be partially attributed to the myriad higher education institutions here. And along with the number of universities is the fact that they attract Latin American students.
"We're talking about an area where Miami-Dade County has a competitive advantage," he said. "Universities from all over the world are setting up here and attracting students from Chile, Spain, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico."
And Florida International University College of Education Dean Marie McDemmond said the ever-increasing demand for elementary teachers combined with an increased presence of foreign students will keep the employment numbers on a steady growth curve for the foreseeable future.
But the jump in jobs in the industry could also be due to the country's immigration practices.
"We went through a cycle where after Sept. 11 we saw a tightening of the students coming in on visas, but that's going back to where it was" before, she said. "I believe you're going to see some continued slow steady growth, but I don't think we'll see big jumps for another two years."
But the real growth factor, according to University of Miami School of Education Dean Isaac Prilleltensky, is in elementary school staffs and how the training process to become a teacher has been significantly decreased as demand has increased.
"We're going to need about 2 million teachers in the next few years," he said. "Because of a great shortage [of teachers], many school districts are opening alternative pathways to certification that entails some summer programs and taking a few courses.
"It's not the best solution, but that may explain in part why you see the trends you see," he added.
But healthcare, which many of Miami's business and civic leaders see as the region's next growth industry, has been bolstered by international patients, especially from Latin America, as well as ambulatory services, federal money for electronic medical records and the burgeoning life sciences research sector.
"Some of the stimulus funding that's come down the pipe has come in both education and in healthcare, which might have been playing a part," said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Health Care Association. "In particular, in some places where those two industries intersect, like in healthcare information technology, there's new money for the primary care centers to implement [electronic] medical records and for teaching unemployed people new skills."
Another reason for the growth, she said, could be that Miami is receiving more international patients, particularly wealthy Latin Americans, and that primary care clinics have begun cropping up in places where they couldn't be found in the recent past.
"There are more people working in healthcare and there are also more settings" in which healthcare is offered, she said. "Walgreens has healthcare now, Wal-Mart has a healthcare center, Macy's and Baptist have a partnership to provide mammograms to people while they're shopping.
"There are more alternative locations and alternatives to hospitals" now, she added.
But the biggest change in healthcare employment, in either direction, could come after the Senate wraps up the healthcare debate.
"As far as Miami's concerned… the life sciences research in new drugs and a lot of R&D will continue, but as far as [employment] in the actual hospitals and so forth, it depends on how healthcare shakes out," Mr. Villamil of St. Thomas University said.
And if Senate Democrats can manage to push through a "public option," it may mean more jobs in healthcare.
"I think healthcare reform will provide some additional need for primary care practitioners," Ms. Quick argued. "When you have more people covered, then they're going to use primary care that they don't use now.
"Now they wait until it's an emergency."