Behind Florida’s Deceptively Low Unemployment Rate
FlaglerLive | March 29, 2016
By Dominic Calabro
Florida’s unemployment rate is down almost half from the peak of 11.1 percent during the Great Recession.
While it is great news that the state’s annual unemployment rate was down to 5.4 percent in 2015, and down to 5 percent in January 2016, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
An underlying factor that determines whether the job market is truly positive is the labor force participation rate (LFPR). The LFPR is the percentage of able-bodied adults aged 16 and over who are either employed or looking for a job. It is considered a more accurate representation of what really is occurring in the job market.
Florida’s economy and unemployment rate have made a miraculous turnaround. People are finding jobs to support their families and the state economy has made marked improvements since the Great Recession.
We serve Floridians far better by looking deeper at the structural and demographic impediments that may keep them from fully participating in the job market. The labor force participation rate should always be taken into account when determining the overall state of the job market and the economy.
The March Edition of Florida TaxWatch’s Economic Commentary finds that Florida’s labor force participation rate has fallen from 61.6 percent in 2010 to 59.3 percent in 2015. The rate has fallen due to numerous fluctuations in the labor market, including the fact that a large fraction of Florida’s population includes those who have retired and thus do not count as part of the labor force.
Additionally, increased access to higher education has caused a decline in the labor force participation rate, as younger people attending college and those who go back to school are not counted as actively looking for work.
But not all people are retiring or studying. Discouraged workers hurt the labor force participation rate. They are people who have been unemployed for a long time and have stopped looking for a job completely. Florida TaxWatch found that during the last quarter of 2015, Florida had 55,700 residents who were considered “discouraged.”
Because these people are not actively looking for a job, they are not counted in the labor force participation rate, which lowers it along with the unemployment rate. Since the average citizen only pays attention to the unemployment rate, this creates an illusion of who truly is unemployed. Had these 55,700 people been actively looking for a job, Florida’s unemployment rate would jump by more than a half percent.
To encourage more people to look for work, Florida should continue to support programs like CareerSource Florida to help Floridians find high-paying jobs and gain valuable career experience. Additionally, making smart investments in economic development programs will bring top-tier companies to the state, increasing job prospects and improving wages.
The full report can be found here.
Dominic Calabro is the President & CEO of Florida TaxWatch, a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan government watchdog and research institute for taxpayers. Calabro also serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Prudential Financial – Davis Productivity Awards Foundation, Inc. which recognizes rewards and replicates outstanding government productivity, and innovative cost-saving achievements throughout Florida government worth over $6.7 billion to date. Before joining TaxWatch in the early 1980s, Calabro served as an analyst with the Florida Senate Ways and Means Committee.