Miami-Dade’s 1.8% unemployment is spectacular – if true
The news was so good Friday that I couldn’t believe it, but there it was: Miami-Dade County’s unemployment rate had hit its lowest point ever – by far. From November’s all-time record low of 2.7%, in a single month unemployment had dropped again by a full third to just 1.8%. Amazing.
It looked absolutely too good to be true. After all, the national unemployment rate was 3.5% and the three lowest state rates in the nation were 2.3% in Utah, Vermont and South Carolina.
But there was Gov. Ron DeSantis issuing a press release saying that it had happened. In fact, he had one press release for the state as a whole and others for each metropolitan area, telling the world how much Florida unemployment had tumbled in a single month.
If nothing else, the state is great on press release efficiency. They all came out the same day the US Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its monthly report on employment in local regions all across the nation.
His release for the state as a whole began, “Today, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to a remarkable, record low of 3% in December 2019.” He’s right, 3% is a remarkable figure and indeed a record low.
But if 3% is remarkable, what can you say about 1.8%? It seems downright impossible.
Reading the release Friday, it did seem highly implausible. There hasn’t been a peacetime rate so low in any big US city in many decades that I know of, maybe ever. Yet the governor (or his press release writer) calmly said merely that “the Miami area’s unemployment rate was 1.8%, down 1.7 percentage points from one year ago.” Understated at best.
The concern I had with the amazing number – and you might have it too – is that Miami-Dade’s economy is not firecracker hot. Good, yes. Growing, yes. But hundreds of thousands of residents still face economic issues. So, how did almost everyone suddenly get a job?
And why was Miami-Dade so far, far ahead of everyone else in Florida in December? The News Service of Florida quoted the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s figures that our tri-county region including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach had hit a low of 2.2% unemployment, best in the state and better than any state in the nation. But among the components of that region Broward was at 2.5% unemployment and Palm Beach County was at 2.7%, while Miami-Dade was listed at 1.8%. Great news uniquely for us – if true.
I tried to figure out why Miami-Dade could be doing so well in December at getting most people working.
Could it have been store hiring for the Christmas rush? Unlikely, as Christmas retail migrates more and more from stores to digital sites.
Maybe it’s more people working at less-skilled or lower-pay jobs than they’re equipped for or part time – employed, but still underemployed?
Could it be that we still have large numbers of unemployed who aren’t seeking unemployment benefits because they’re not legal workers in the US?
Is the number of unemployed falling because many people who can’t find jobs have given up looking for work or gone back to school? Those categories aren’t counted among the unemployed even though the people in them are victims of the economy.
Is there a statistical disconnect or some sort, I wondered? The workforce count and the count of the number of employed might be coming from separate sources that don’t align.
Or – and this would be by far the most positive explanation – was I flat out underestimating the heat in the Miami-Dade economy? Is the explanation for our great unemployment numbers that the economy is so much better than it seems on the surface? Are employers creating a huge number of new jobs, suddenly scooping up everyone they can find?
I thought back to the old saying “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” If things seem wonderful, don’t question whether a gift is as great as it seems – whether that supposedly young gift horse is really an old nag.
But in the back of my mind was my university course in labor economics. In those days, it was axiomatic that unemployment could not fall below 2%, simply because too many workers are in the process of shifting jobs or moving homes or otherwise slipping into and out of the workforce. Human instability alone would cause a 2% temporary unemployment level.
So had Miami somehow and uniquely overcome one of the laws of economics?
Looking more deeply at the federal labor figures, one set of numbers stands out: in October, Miami-Dade had a listed labor force of 1,463,774 with 42,528 of them unemployed, a 2.9% unemployment rate. By December, the labor force had contracted to 1,426,150 with just 25,207 of them unemployed, a 1.8% unemployment rate.
So in two months the county had lost 37,624 total workers, of whom 17,311 were unemployed. Fewer jobs but far fewer unemployed, something to think carefully about. Was it logical?
Apparently I wasn’t the only one puzzled on Friday by the plunging unemployment rates across Florida.
By early Saturday afternoon all of those falling unemployment rates and total employment numbers in cities throughout the state that the federal government had posted Friday morning had somehow disappeared from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website – all but the statewide total figures and the 1.8% figure from Miami-Dade County. Even the combined Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach totals were gone.
No explanations, just big holes where December totals had appeared. Job gains and losses by industry remained, but the labor force and employment and unemployment numbers and rates had vanished.
When they return, will unemployment percentages plunge around the state as they have in Miami-Dade? Will numbers throughout the state instead return at the levels they had on Friday?
Or might we discover that only 1.8% unemployment in Miami-Dade really was far too good to be true?
We hope the spectacular numbers are right. But the federal government suddenly blanked them out for a reason. Was it overstatement?