While more workers are resting on a well-deserved day off this Labor Day, about 12.8 million more are still searching for work in a slow-motion economy.
The workforce, the cornerstone of the American economy, is slightly healthier than last year with the national unemployment rate down to 8.3 percent from 9.1 percent. Fewer discouraged workers have thrown in the towel on the job hunt, with 852,000 dropping out of the labor force — that’s 267,000 fewer than last year. Still, a staggering one out of every two 2012 college graduates will be jobless or underemployed.
President Obama’s remarks earlier this year on the shape of the private sector masked the reality of many frustrated and tired Americans. National unemployment has decreased, but a cooperative, bipartisan effort needs to be demonstrated in Washington to put more Americans back to work. Politicians can no longer afford to dance around the matter.
Next to healthcare, employment — coupled with the incessant mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs” — continues to be a hot-button issue this election year. This Labor Day falls between the Republican and Democratic national conventions, with both parties scrambling to make a winning case for their candidate. It’s a race that squares off to one question: Who can create more jobs?
Though the local unemployment rate has rebounded since 2010 from an alarming 12.3 percent to 9.5 percent in Miami-Dade County and 10.4 percent to 8.1 percent in Broward County, figures are at a plateau after steady improvement this year, with depressed construction hiring acting as a drag throughout the region.
A few bright spots are evident here and there amid the troubling numbers. In July, Broward employers overall added 4,800 payroll positions compared to a year ago, after falling in May and June. But the overall picture remains gloomy. While employers added 5,600 positions in July in Miami-Dade compared to the prior year, it was the worst hiring number since September 2010.
It’s not much better at the state level. Mid-August numbers showed Florida’s overall employment rate, which has been making strides since the darker years in the recession, still hovers above the national average at 8.8 percent. There’s still a long way to go.
South Florida’s private sector has tackled the problem head-on with initiatives like the Beacon Council’s One Community, One Goal, aiming to add 75,000 more jobs to the payrolls. But no matter how hard the Beacon Council and other groups try to pull Miami out of a slump, it’s hard to fight national and global trends that keep the economy sluggish..
Some promises are finally coming through. The tourism industry continues to serve as South Florida’s breadwinner, generating $17 billion in revenue and 176,000 jobs. Construction continues on the PortMiami tunnel, and deep-sea dredging to expand the port will begin early next year.
In the spirit of how Labor Day began — protecting workers from unsafe working conditions and unreasonably low pay — Florida needs to clean up its shoddy reputation for protecting workers’ rights. The state recently ranked dead last for wage-theft protection against corner-cutting employers. The welfare of employees, especially those laboring in the blue-collar sector, should never be compromised to save a few bucks. Public-sector unions, particularly those that represent our police, firefighters and teachers should continue to bargain for deserved — but not excessive — benefits.