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Florida’s jobless numbers are low amid staffing shortages, giving workers unprecedented leverage

Portrait of smiling male in wheelchair working on a laptop.
As businesses continue growing and adding jobs that need to be filled, workers have plenty of opportunities to improve their pay and job benefits.

Florida’s jobless rate is 3.2 percent. The unemployment report for March shows the number of jobless Floridians keeps decreasing, even as businesses struggle to find and hold on to workers.

The report suggests this is an unprecedented time of leverage for job seekers.

“All businesses, all industries in our state are growing,” said Florida Department of Economic Opportunity chief economist Adrienne Johnston in releasing the report for March. “They're competing for qualified talent, and they're having to find ways to compete, and that in some cases includes raising wages. It includes finding other ways to incentivize their employees.”

The report shows many people are leaving their jobs – confident they’ll find work somewhere else. “For example, we saw that professional and business services continues month over month to add more jobs. That is in the technical services area, which tends to be more high paying,” Johnston said. “We also see a lot of job growth in financial activities, which again is a high paying industry.”

In particular, the report shows workers are shifting away from hospitality jobs in hotels and restaurants in favor of more money in manufacturing, construction, and warehousing.

As businesses are growing and adding jobs that need to be filled, a lot of people are still out of the workforce by choice. Some are creating their own work.

“Yeah, there's a lot of leverage,” says Professor Wayne Hochwarter in the Florida State University College of Business. “You don't even really need to have the background that you used to have. You don't need a college education for some of these jobs. You don't need experience in a particular industry. They're willing to train you.”

Hochwarter says shortages can be found everywhere from fast food restaurants to doctors’ offices, and short-staffed companies are adding responsibilities for the workers they do have.

“The bucket of misery is really full with a lot of people, and they just don't have the physical and emotional resources to reengage at work,” Hochwarter says. “Frankly right now, the world - irrespective of jobs - is taking a lot out of us.” He cites COVID-19, inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and election season as being among the stressors.

A series of stimulus checks and higher unemployment payouts during the pandemic gave families a boost, but Hochwarter says widespread job vacancies are about more than money.

“We had the great resignation. Now, I think we've got the great reconciliation,” where people can take a thoughtful pause, he says, thanks to money from the government. He says many people are asking, “What do I really want to do with my life? What do I really want to get out of it, and how much do I want to commit to work?”

Aside from incentives like higher pay and more paid time off, Hochwarter says bosses need to get better at handling their employees’ work-life balance, like offering options for childcare and mental health days. “Companies are going to have to get more engaged in the non-work aspects of life.”

What if that still doesn’t lure employees back?

“Their desperation is getting them to head in different directions,” Hochwarter says of companies looking for alternatives to human capital. He says consumers are likely to see more automation, being forced to order online or use kiosks.

While workers are feeling confident, the National Federation of Independent Businesses says business owners are less optimistic. Many don’t have enough employees, and now they’re having to raise their prices due to inflation.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.