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Job gains struggle to relieve hospital and school staffing shortages

The state’s unemployment rate rose by a tenth of a percent in July and to sit at 5.1% but remains below the national average. State economists said the increase in the rate is due to more than 83,000 Floridians rejoining the labor force and seeking jobs.
The state’s unemployment rate rose by a tenth of a percent in July and to sit at 5.1% but remains below the national average. State economists said the increase in the rate is due to more than 83,000 Floridians rejoining the labor force and seeking jobs.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state’s unemployment rate rose by a tenth of a percent in July and to sit at 5.1% but remains below the national average. State economists said the increase in the rate is due to more than 83,000 Floridians rejoining the labor force and seeking jobs.

The Jacksonville metropolitan statistical area saw a drop from 5.0% in June to 4.5% in July. St. Johns County’s 3.6% unemployment rate was the second-lowest in the state, while Putnam County was tied for the second-highest in the state at 6.8%.

But even with the steady economic recovery, some sectors are continuing to deal with chronic staffing shortages.

The education and health care services saw the third highest gains in July, with 10,000 jobs added.

But the sector is still only 79% recovered compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Currently, there are almost 9,000 vacancies in Florida schools.

“From last year to this year we have 63% increase in vacancies for instructional staff,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.

Spar argued low interest in the profession is being driven primarily by low wages, despite beginning teachers getting large increases in the last two years.

“Florida ranks 48th now in the nation in average teacher pay,” he said.

There are also over 8,000 nursing vaccines across the state.

“This is important. Health care is a critical part of the state’s economy,” said Mary Mayhew, president of the Florida Hospital Association.

Mayhew said the stress of the pandemic has caused an exodus from the industry.

“Had a workforce shortage before the pandemic, it is now exacerbated because of the pandemic,” Mayhew said.

While education and health care jobs are in the spotlight due to their frontline role in the pandemic, state economists said the trouble finding workers isn’t unique to those industries.

“Every job category, class, industry, sector is experiencing some level of tension in the labor market,” said Department of Economic Opportunity’s chief economist, Adrienne Johnston.

As for education and health care staffing shortages, there isn’t likely a short-term solution.

Both industries said bolstering training programs is the key to ensuring the supply of workers can meet the demand.

Even as the delta variant began to surge in July, state economists said the rise in cases didn’t impact the economic recovery.

They also said the continued economic growth in July suggests ending federal unemployment benefits early drove more Floridians back into the workforce.