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Wages In Florida Continue To Lag. Here Are Some Reasons Why

Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago in December 2013.
Paul Beaty
Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago in December 2013.

Florida leaders love to tout the state's economic growth as a pandemic success story. But wages in Florida are lower than other states.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average weekly wages in Florida’s 25 largest counties were below the national average of $1,173 in the third quarter of 2020.

It's been that way for decades, and the disparity is especially bad in the state's largest industry: tourism.

WUSF's Bradley George spoke with Hector Sandoval, director of economic analysis at the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Below is a transcript of their conversation, edited for clarity.

You say wages were going up just before the pandemic. Why?

“One of the reasons why is because there was now a very tight labor market, just right before the pandemic. And I remember also there was news that Walt Disney, they were going to increase the minimum wage. So that's actually going to have this positive increase in wages. But again, this was before the pandemic.”

We’ve heard anecdotally about service businesses, particularly restaurants, being unable to find, hire and retain workers. Some are offering signing bonuses or maybe increasing their wages. How long do you anticipate that businesses will have to kind of sweeten the pot for workers?

“If you look at the numbers of people in the labor force, there is still a lot of people that are not considered as an employee. They're just out of the labor force, because they just not engaged in the labor market. There is still a lot of people that are out there are going to come back, once the schools reopen in the summer and fall. There’s the issue that [supplemental] unemployment benefits are going to expire by the end of June. And that's kind of like this strategy for the government to push people to take the jobs that are out there.”

Florida's minimum wage is going up gradually to $15 an hour. What kind of effect is that going to have on the labor market going forward?

“Normally, the main critique is like “this is going to kill jobs.” But there is no evidence that happens. In essence, there is actually other benefits that really help to retain employees. And it also helps the families of these people.”

Do you think with the increases in the minimum wage, and the changes to the labor market that we've seen during the pandemic, that we could be entering a situation where Florida is no longer a state where wages are flat or are below the national average?

“One of the main things in Florida is that a lot of the jobs are kind of low skill. And those normally tend to be low wage. I mean, compared to the national average. And I don't think that situation is going to change.”

Copyright 2021 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Bradley George comes to WUSF from Atlanta, where he was a reporter, host, and editor at Georgia Public Broadcasting. While in Atlanta, he reported for NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and The Takeaway. His work has been recognized by PRNDI, the Georgia Associated Press, and the Atlanta Press Club. Prior to his time in Georgia, Bradley worked at public radio stations in Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina.