In Miami, workforce board finding creative solutions to unemployment
By Scott Blake
After more than a year out of work, Juan Balsera landed a job and restarted his career, but the small company that hired him wouldn't have done so without an extra financial incentive.
Interactive Blue, an 11-employee Miami firm that handles design and engineering-related work for utility lines, recently hired the 50-year-old Miami Lakes resident as a full-time systems consultant.
From President Obama to the South Florida Workforce Board in Miami, officials are pursuing financially creative solutions to jumpstart the still-sluggish job market — including the program that helped Mr. Balsera get his job.
The Workforce Board, the employment agency for Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, is paying for most of his training at Interactive Blue under programs that essentially subsidize companies' employment costs to spur hiring.
"It's a great feeling" to be working again, Mr. Balsera said.
Robert Mena, founder and head of Interactive Blue, said he wouldn't have hired Mr. Balsera without the training subsidies because Mr. Balsera didn't initially have all the technical know-how needed. The money for job training, he added, tipped the decision in Mr. Balsera's favor.
"We're looking for any way to save money, especially in this (economic) environment," Mr. Mena said.
The unemployment rate in Miami-Dade has remained above Florida's average, but preliminary statistics show the area's rate fell in July. The county's jobless rate fell to 12.5% in July, down from 13.9% in June and 12.9% in July 2010, Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation statistics show.
However, unemployment remains substantially higher for young minorities and less educated segments of the workforce, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank on labor issues.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate for workers 16 to 24 with a high school diploma was 21.1% in August. In addition, the jobless rate for all 16- to 19-year-olds was 25.4% last month. For Hispanics of that age group, it was 37.4%. For blacks of that age, it was 46.5%, the institute found.
With government funding for Miami-Dade job creation programs dwindling, including money from past Obama administration initiatives, the local Workforce Board has been severely limited in how much help it can give.
For example, the board has received $8,640 in government assistance for on-the-job training for its current fiscal year, which started July 1. So far, the board has only placed one person in a job that way in the first two months of the fiscal year. That's down from $93,556 in assistance and 42 people placed during the entire previous fiscal year, according to data released by the board.
Meanwhile, workforce officials have moved around funds within their budget to continue summer employment programs for young workers. Such programs provide employers with money to subsidize the wages of youths they hire, said Rick Beasley, the board's executive director.
About 2,700 Greater Miami youths were hired in the first summer of the program in 2009, but as funding was depleted, the number dropped to 1,400 the following summer, Mr. Beasley said.
Another idea that Mr. Beasley is considering proposing to Florida lawmakers is taking a fraction of the unemployment insurance tax paid by employers and setting it aside in a trust fund to subsidize wages for newly hired workers.
On a larger scale, Mr. Beasley said he's hopeful about the possibilities for continuing and expanding employment programs under President Obama's new jobs plan.
"We're excited about the direction of having a jobs bill to help employers reduce their payroll taxes and to give them other incentives to hire," Mr. Beasley said.
President Obama last week unveiled a list of job creation initiatives as part of a bill titled The American Jobs Act. Members of the administration immediately began campaigning for the bill, including a stop by US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the Port of Miami last weekend.
The Obama bill faces opposition from Republican congressional leaders, who have dismissed the proposal as an "all or nothing approach" that doesn't seek their ideas for the bill.
The bill would cut the payroll tax in half for employers on the first $5 million in wages. In Florida, 410,000 employers would get a tax cut under the plan, according to the White House.
The bill would include $50 billion for highway, transit, rail and aviation projects, including $1.58 billion in Florida, creating an estimated 20,500 jobs here.
The bill also would provide $35 billion to prevent layoffs of teachers, and increase hiring of police officers and firefighters. In Florida, the impact would be $1.67 billion in funding to support up to 25,900 teacher and public safety jobs.
In addition, the bill would invest $25 billion in school construction, including $1.28 billion in Florida, supporting an estimated 16,600 jobs, among other measures.
"The economic security of the middle class has been under attack for decades," a White House statement reads. "That's why President Obama believes we need to do more than just recover from this economic crisis — we need to rebuild the economy the American way, based on balance, fairness, and the same set of rules for everyone from Wall Street to Main Street."
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.