South Florida hiring above average

South Florida outpaced the nation in job growth at the start of 2013, but didn’t fare as well when it came to higher wages, according to new federal data covering a period before Miami-Dade’s hiring market seemed to lose steam.

The latest industry-level data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts both Broward and Miami-Dade counties in the upper third of the 335 largest counties when it comes to increased employment and weekly wages for the three months of 2013. The decent marks on hiring (Miami-Dade took the No. 74 slot and Broward No. 91) reflect a year that started well for South Florida but then brought a slowdown in more recent hiring employment data in Miami-Dade.

“We had this deceleration of growth in 2013,” said Robert Cruz, official economist for Miami-Dade County. “It’s been here for a while.”

This summer brought rising anxiety among consumers as Republicans threaten to block raising the debt ceiling, creating concerns of another stock market tumble or worse. The coming implementation of President Obama’s healthcare plan has been cited by businesses as one reason they’re holding back on expanding payrolls.

While home values continue to rise, up 14 percent in South Florida according to the latest Case-Shiller numbers, consumer confidence statewide dipped in September for the third straight month, according to the University of Florida.

Scoring the hiring market involves a steady stream of data from the federal government, and not all of them point in the same direction. The latest batch comes from a quarterly counting of payroll numbers. The quarterly numbers lag the monthly reports but are considered more reliable because they’re made up of detailed data from industries throughout the country’s largest counties.

The report issued Thursday shows employment up 2.6 percent in Miami-Dade at the start of 2013 and up 2.4 percent in Broward. Both were well above the national average of a 1.6 percent gain. (Last week, the latest BLS monthly report showed roughly the same growth in Broward, with employment up 3.1 percent in August, but a far slower pace in Miami-Dade, with hiring up less than 1 percent.)

On the wage front, South Florida’s scores weren’t as impressive. Miami-Dade’s average weekly wage at the start of 2013, $912, was up .9 percent from the prior year. That gave the county the No. 141 slot out of 335 large counties. Broward didn’t fare as well, with just a .1 percent increase to an average weekly wage of $878. That gain ranked 216th on the list.

The quarterly wage figures do not adjust for inflation, which measures the rise and fall of prices. Factoring in the federal government’s inflation measure, South Florida wages peaked between 2005 and 2007, and are down about 5 percent since in both counties.

Ali Bustamante, a researcher at Florida International University and author of a recent report on wages in Florida, said the recovery has yet to bring enough hiring to make a difference in the average worker’s paycheck.

“A growing economy lifts all boats,” he said. “If we have greater demand for products and services, companies will have to do more to attract workers. We’re just not there yet.”

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