The latest economic news in Florida continues to be positive. Unemployment is trending down. Personal income is moving upward. Home sales are rebounding and home values are up. Tourism has set a new record. Tax revenues are increasing, and state government has a surplus not a deficit.
Florida’s economy has been recovering faster than much of New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Great Lakes and Rocky Mountain regions.
Unemployment in Florida for February was 6.2 percent – down from a peak of 11.4 percent – and well below many states across the country from California to Illinois to Rhode Island.
But the Florida comeback is not yet complete. The state still has a way to go before anyone can declare that Florida is truly back.
The key issue is jobs: businesses have created hundreds of thousands of jobs, but many more are needed. More jobs would create a multiplier effect. If more people were working, they would spend more money to boost the local economy. More people working would mean less need for government benefits and more tax revenues in the state treasury.
Specifically, Florida has not yet regained all the jobs it lost in the last recession, and it has not created enough new jobs for young people entering the workforce and people out of work.
Since December 2010, Florida businesses have added 500,000 new private-sector jobs. That’s a huge improvement. About 192,800 of those jobs came just in 2013. So the pace of job recovery has been strong.
Industries gaining jobs include trade, transportation and utilities, as well as leisure and hospitality, construction and manufacturing. These are important because they often employ people with only a high school education, who are the majority of workers.
But, despite the job gains, Florida is more than 200,000 jobs short of where it was before the recession. Florida’s total nonfarm employment reached 7,718,500 in February 2014. That is still below the 8,048,700 nonagricultural jobs reported in May 2007. Clearly, the job trend is upward, but not yet back to the prerecession break-even point.
Then, look at the unemployment numbers. A total of 588,000 Florida residents are jobless. And thousands more are underemployed that is they are working below their job potential.
Obviously, more needs to be done to encourage employers – small and large – to bring more workers onto the payroll.
Business confidence is still a problem and a drag on the U.S. economy as a whole. A Business Roundtable survey of chief executive officers found only 37 percent nationally plan to add employees in the next six months. About 44 percent expect no change in their workforce and 19 percent say their workforce will shrink.
Their stated reason: uncertainty about action in Washington on taxes, immigration, trade and other issues.
Small business optimism also is lagging, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
“Uncertainty is a major cause of the [Small Business Optimism] Index’s dip. Lacking any progress in Washington and facing continued unknowns with the healthcare law, the EPA, the minimum wage, tax reform and more, it is no surprise that the Small Business Optimism Index fell, reversing a few months of modest gains,” said NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg in a recent report.
Meanwhile in Florida, there is greater optimism about the economy. Florida is now ranked fifth in the nation for expected 2014 job growth, according to Moody’s Analytics, with a projected 2.34 percent job increase amounting to 176,000 new jobs.
That would be another major step in the Florida comeback.
Joseph Santangelo is a former reporter for the Bergen Record in New Jersey, has worked in business and government and writes from Clearwater.