ECONOMIC TIME MACHINE

Miami-Dade’s labor force moving in right direction

 

Florida’s unemployment rate is dropping, thanks in part to fewer people looking for work. Not so in Miami-Dade, where the labor pool keeps growing.

dhanks@MiamiHerald.com

Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate may be stalled at just over 9 percent, but one key number continues moving in the right direction.

Florida’s largest local economy enjoys an expanding labor pool — something Broward and Florida can’t say. The latest employment numbers show Miami-Dade gained both jobs and job seekers in May, while Broward and Florida saw gains in employment but declines in those seeking work. The Herald’s Naked Politics blog has an excellent write-up of a state study looking at these diverging trends, and below are the numbers behind the debate.

Of course, new jobs haven’t been enough to fix the worst hiring crisis South Florida has faced in at least a generation. The latest numbers show 200,000 people in South Florida are counted as unemployed. That’s left Miami-Dade with a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, and Broward with a 7.6 percent unemployment rate. Both are adjusted for seasonal changes in the economy.

But behind the discouraging rates sit two numbers that aren’t tracked as closely, but offer important clues to the economy’s trajectory. One is the labor pool or workforce — that is, the number of people who tell survey takers they are either employed or looking for work. The other is the employed — the people in the survey who say they have a job, even if it is working for themselves.

Unemployment is calculated by taking the difference between the labor pool and the employed —the remaining people are the unemployed — and then dividing that by the number of people in the labor pool. Miami-Dade’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate means that for every 100 people either seeking work or working, almost 10 people don’t hold a job.

In a grim economy, people will think the job market so hopeless that they won’t bother seeking work. When a survey taker for the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics contacts someone like that, they won’t be counted in the labor pool — only job seekers and job holders are. Thus, a decline in so-called “discouraged workers” can actually decrease the unemployment rate. That’s been the case in Florida this year, with unemployment down from 9.7 percent to 8.6 percent thanks in part to a shrinking labor pool over that time.

The length of the unemployment crisis also may be weighing down the labor pool. People collecting state unemployment aid must prove they are seeking work. Once their nearly two years of federal and state aid expires, some simply stop the job hunt since the search no longer comes tied to aid payments.

As Naked Politics noted, critics of Gov. Rick Scott also see another explanation for Florida’s shrinking labor pool. New rules by the Scott administration set up some of the strictest requirements in the country for receiving unemployment aid.

Applicants must apply online, and are required to take a 45-question test on their job skills that some see as discouraging poorly-educated people from using the system.

The Miami Herald’s Economic Time Machine tracks 60 local indicators in an effort to chart South Florida’s recovery from the Great Recession. By comparing current conditions to where they were before the downturn, the ETM attempts to measure how far back the recession set the economy. The answer so far: June 2003. Visit ETM headquarters at miamiherald.com/economic-time-machine for the latest updates.

Read more The Economic Time Machine stories from the Miami Herald

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