Florida’s jobless rate hits 11 percent as public toll worsens
Workers remain out of work longer and longer as Florida’s unemployment rate hits 11 percent for the first time in 34 years.
(MIAMI HERALD) With 17 years of experience in information technology, a guy like Michael Grenier wouldn’t normally have trouble finding a job.
But the Great Recession is anything but normal, and Grenier has been out of work for just over a year.
“It’s depressing to apply and apply and apply and apply,” said Grenier, 48, of Oakland Park. “It’s depressing.”
It’s not just Grenier: Unemployment spells are getting longer. And the longer the unemployment rate stays high, the longer the average period of unemployment is likely to be.
Florida’s overall jobless rate hit 11 percent in September, up two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month, according to figures released by the state labor department on Friday. That’s the highest since 1975, and represents more than a million Floridians out of work.
Local rates were 11.3 percent in Miami-Dade County, 9.8 percent in Broward and 7 percent in Monroe. Unlike the state numbers, the county rates aren’t adjusted for seasonal fluctuations.
Across the United States, a majority of the nation’s 15 million unemployed have been out of work three months or longer, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than a third — 5.4 million people — have been out of work six months or longer.
Up-to-date state numbers aren’t available, but as of last year, Florida’s long-term jobless rate was about four percentage points higher than the nation as a whole, said the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.
Experts say long-term unemployment can have severe consequences for affected individuals, their communities and the economy.
For the individual, it can mean anxiety, depression, substance abuse and family problems.
“I would say almost the majority of the cases that have been coming in recently, we find there is a loss of job behind there someplace,” said Craig Marker, director of the University of Miami’s Psychological Services Center, a clinic that serves the community at large.
“Generally, we have a very good psychological immune system,” Marker said. “But being out of a job, you’re constantly hit by this fact, and it makes it hard for the immune system to deal with it.”
Numerous studies have shown that such problems can bleed into the larger community, said Bruce Nissen, a labor sociologist at Florida International University. “All sorts of social pathologies grow,” he said. “Broken families, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, children running away.”
Then there’s the economic impact. Naturally, unemployed people spend less, but that’s not the whole story.
After a long period of unemployment, people also may become less economically productive, said David Denslow, a University of Florida economist. Their skills may deteriorate. A long résumé gap can leave them with a stigma in future job searches. Their future earnings may be less. And some may drop out of the labor force altogether, retiring prematurely, going on disability or relying on the support of relatives, Denslow said.
“We call it a loss of human capital,” he said. “They start costing us instead of contributing their taxes.”
For the government, that means less tax income at a time when demand is high for safety-net services such as extended unemployment benefits.
Florida residents can now receive up to 79 weeks of benefits, although Congress is expected to extend that.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said if unemployment remains at current levels, he would support additional extensions of jobless benefits and an extension of a federal subsidy for health benefits for people who have been laid off. Diaz-Balart said unemployment is a top issue for him and his constituents.
While experts say the economy may be recovering, unemployment is a lagging economic indicator. That means it stays high long after the economy has started to grow again. In this case, University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith is predicting a statewide jobless rate above 10 percent until 2012.
“People cannot find jobs. Period. End of story,” Diaz-Balart said. “If you are unemployed, you don’t care how good things are on Wall Street. While people are out of jobs, government has to fund the safety net.”
Benefit extensions may be one of the few issues with bipartisan support in Washington these days.
“While I do believe the economy is beginning to turn around, I would support an additional extension in unemployment benefits if job growth continues to lag in the recovery,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the long-term unemployed struggle to find jobs. Grenier spent much of his career working with mainframe computers, but he recently completed a course on PC networking and has been teaching himself computer languages like C++.
He had an interview Thursday, and it went well, but the competition is stiff.
“They have eight other candidates they want to interview,” Grenier said, “then they will narrow it down.”
Juliette Taylor, who has 15 years of experience with social service agencies, tells a similar story.
“I have been diligently looking,” said Taylor, a single mom from Fort Lauderdale who has been jobless since March. “I’ve been looking hard. Most positions you apply for, there’s a million other people applying.”
Swamped with applicants, many social services agencies are now asking for a master’s degree for jobs that used to require a bachelor’s, said Taylor, who has a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Florida A&M.
“I am fighting to save my house,” she said. “I’m just holding on, hoping I could find something.”