Governor Rick Scott’s economic development transition team and some legislators have complained recently that Florida’s unemployed workers don’t look hard enough to find a job. The transition team cited a study that was misused, its author said. Now two new reports indicate just how difficult it is for the unemployed to find a new job.
Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor reported, there were 4.6 jobless workers for every job available in November. That’s three times more competitors for each job opening than there were in early 2007, when Florida employment began a long slide that resulted in more than one million jobless.
Nevertheless, legislators worried this week about jobless Floridians milking the unemployment insurance (UI) system. (See “Florida senators target couch potatoes inflating state unemployment rate,” January 11, St. Petersburg Times.)
One state senator asked the state agency overseeing unemployment compensation to "distinguish between those who can't get off the couch ... and those who won't get off the couch" to hunt for jobs. Another senator wanted to make sure the state eliminated “slackers and malingerers” who enjoy a “lifestyle” of receiving unemployment benefits without trying to work.
But the difficulty of job-seeking was illustrated in a report by Forbes.com that lists three Florida cities – Orlando, Jacksonville, and Miami – as among the 10 worst job markets in the nation. The list was created using unemployment rates, JuJu.com’s monthly Job Search Difficulty Index for Major Cities, and analysis by Moody's Economy.com.
It’s not as if Florida’s unemployed are living it up. The maximum weekly benefit for an unemployed worker is $275 a week, lower than all but three states. Less than half of the unemployed even qualify for benefits because of Florida’s antiquated UI system.
Furthermore, Florida’s UI system is among the cheapest in the nation for employers. Only the first $7,000 of a worker’s salary is taxable to the employer – lowest in the nation. Even after unemployment tax increases this year to strengthen the unemployment insurance trust fund, the maximum tax on Florida employers per worker ($378 annually) will be among the lowest of the 51 states and District of Columbia.
Even so, the new administration and some legislators want to “reform” the system as part of efforts to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation.
The American UI system was created in 1935 as a response to the Great Depression, when millions of jobless workers and their families suffered. Without wages, they couldn’t buy goods and services, leading to more layoffs and a collapse in economic activity.
The system remains vital today not only to the more than one million Floridians and their families who receive payments, but also to thousands of businesses where the unemployed spend their benefits on products and services.