Jobs gains hopeful signals, but recovery will be a long trek
Miami’s economic recovery from the pandemic appears stronger even while the Delta variant of Covid-19 is exacerbating pain in our community. But all is not yet sunny.
Monthly data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show gains in Miami-Dade that might have more to do with local bootstrapping operations to build the economy than they do with a broader recovery.
Data that lead to hope for the future in Miami stem from five vital observations:
■Unemployment in Miami-Dade in July was 6.5%, about triple what it was at the start of the pandemic last year but the lowest percentage since. The percentage fell from 7.1% in June and came while unemployment for Florida as a whole was actually creeping up – from 4.7% in March to 4.8% in April to 4.9% in May and 5% in June to hit 5.1% in July.
■While joblessness in the county was falling, the actual number of people on the job was the highest since March 2020, when the pandemic took hold here. We had 1,277,600 fellow residents working in July, a gain of close to 5,000 jobs in one month.
■The total county workforce at 1,366,318 was the largest since February 2020. “When you look at June and July, we actually saw a higher uptick of people joining the labor force. So that’s probably an indication of positive impacts there,” said Adrienne Johnston, the state Department of Economic Opportunity’s chief economist, referring to the state as a whole.
■Narrowing down to financial activities in the county, we had 85,000 people actually on the job in July. That’s the most people ever at work here in those areas, up 5,400 jobs in a single year.
■Another key category also set a record for workers on the job, as professional and business services had 187,900 total workers in the county in July, up 16,300 jobs in that group alone in 12 months.
The financial activities gain is in a high-pay area, with an average of $40.33 per hour paid to that segment of workers nationally, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Those workers are divided into two categories: workers in finance and insurance, and workers in real estate. Both segments have long played major roles in Miami.
But in addition, since well before the pandemic a growth of workers in high-paid financial activities has been a target of both the Beacon Council, which is Miami-Dade’s economic development organization, and Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, which for years has been reaching out to the Northeast and elsewhere to lure here financial companies with highly paid workers. Miami Beach has more recently been working to attract companies in that category to move there.
While it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint all factors contributing to growth in financial jobs, it seems highly likely that those recruitment efforts are paying dividends, even though the state as a whole in July also enjoyed a record number of financial jobs.
Other than recruitment, we should note that the financial jobs rise came when real estate – particularly home sales – was booming, and workers in real estate related fields are included in this category. In Miami in particular, “seasonal” real estate agents surface when other jobs are scarce and real estate is in one of its periodic overheated modes. These are “sometime” workers who cross lines into other fields depending on the heat of the real estate market. Today it’s fiery. What happens when it isn’t?
The causes of growth in professional and business services are harder to pinpoint because of the three subcategories of jobs within that area: professional, scientific and technical services; management of companies and enterprises; and administrative and support, and waste management and removal services.
While that category has an overall $36.80 per hour national pay level, it obviously has very wide gulfs between, for example, company managers and garbage collectors, all of whom are included in this category. Trying to find specific causes for gains in the category – that is, beyond a broad cause of economic growth – seems to be groping for straws.
It’s clear that a single month’s figures for jobs in Miami-Dade are not sufficient to judge economic trends. In August, for example, the spread of Covid-19 in the county grew substantially worse. That is sure to be reflected in the next set of figures to be issued.
And negatives lurk even within the positives. Miami-Dade construction jobs, for example, fell 6.6% in the past 12 months to 49,500 jobs this month. That’s the fewest people in construction in the county in three and a half years, since January 2018.
Construction is usually a bellwether of Miami-Dade’s economic health. This job drop is worrisome, because we have a long track record of building more and more, higher and higher, tracking our level of economic exuberance. Without exuberance, our recovery will be sporadic and slower.
In the Midwest economy, farmers pray for rains. In Miami’s economic growth, we pray for cranes.