Miami-Dade's unemployment rate shows nation's largest decline
By Frank Norton
The jobless rate in Miami-Dade County boasted the largest one-year drop among US metropolitan areas in November, according to the Department of Labor.
Although the county's rate fell 1.4 percentage points to 7% in November from 8.4% in November 2001, it remains the highest in Florida, which averaged 5% at the same point, the agency's Bureau of Labor statistics reported this month.
Local and state analysts attribute Miami's strong recovery to a steady rebound in travel and housing and construction growth, and last year's poor benchmark.
"The visitor industry hasn't fully recovered from 9/11 yet, but it has made some remarkable gains toward coming back," said John Cordrey, vice president of research at the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development agency.
While the slow rebound in travel has been felt nationally, its initial effect on Miami's hospitality employment was more acute than in most regions, analysts said. After suffering great job loss in the months after 9/11, the county is managing to gain more dramatically during recovery.
As for construction and real estate, a fast-growing population is proving to be a positive force. While migrants and transplants increased Miami-Dade's labor force, they led to an employment boom in the real estate, construction, banking and health sectors that serve new residents, analysts said.
South Florida Workforce officials, who train workers, say job growth will continue to increase in medical services and education, which remain underserved sectors in the region.
"We were hit very hard in 2001," Dr. Cordrey said of the jobless decrease, "and that still has us in a strong position for further recovery."
But without stepped-up market research and worker training, local job experts say further improvement in unemployment numbers could be left to the whims of unpredictable macro-economic shifts.
"We have seen a lot of people hired back recently but we need to redirect more workers from low-demand fields to growing ones like medical care, IT and construction," said Maria Bertot, South Florida Workforce spokesperson.
"It's all about analyzing your environment and educating your public to go where the stable, good-paying job are," she said.
Last year, the agency's statewide parent, Workforce Florida, beefed up its marketing budget to prospective employers from a few thousand dollars to half a million, part of an effort to match South Florida's workforce with its evolving and maturing business needs.
Although the agency has had success in redirecting workforces from tourism and farming sectors, she said, labor-market growth and changing market needs continue to leave many able job-seekers in the lurch.
"It really still is an employer's market," she said, although significant gains are apparent others pointed out.
Joan Greenberg, area manager for Manpower, a national staffing agency, said its two Miami offices booked more than 80% more labor hours in November than a year earlier.
"That's pretty significant and it's occurred across the board in Miami," she said.
Ms. Greenberg rebutted claims that November's year-over-year employment growth in Miami-Dade County stemmed from the cyclical upswing of holiday travel and shopping
"We didn't feel any surge in retail until well into December," she said. "Part of it is that there are so many people out of work they've grown more aggressive about getting jobs."
She expects health-care industries to strengthen demand for workers in 2003.
Health care, education and other "knowledge-based sectors" will increasingly drive job growth in South Florida, said J. Antonio Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economics Group, based in Coral Gables.
"And if you look at the numbers, a lot of that growth is in local government," he said, including education and defense contracting.
Ms. Bertot said her agency plans to redirect more workers into teaching, partly to assist Gov. Jeb Bush's initiative to reduce classroom sizes.
"The job market did improve significantly," she said. "It's all going to be our ability to make adjustments."