Unemployment Declines In South Florida As Some Industries See Rising Wages, Labor Shortages

Jun 15, 2018

South Florida's unemployment rates dropped more than half a percent in the past year, according to job figures released Friday by the Department of Economic Opportunity, contributing to a shortage of labor and rising wages in some industries.

The Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas have both added more than 10,000 jobs since May 2017, dropping their unemployement rates to 4 and 3.2 percent, respectively. The West Palm Beach area's unemployment rate is at 3.3 percent, and Monroe County's is at 2.7 percent.

The manufacturing and construction industries have contributed to much of South Florida's job growth.  Miami has added 7,200 new jobs in manufacturing and 6,300 in construction in the past year, while Fort Lauderdale now has more than 4,000 construction jobs. 

Peter Dyga, president of the Florida East coast chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, said the increasing construction job availability reflects a rise in residential and commercial projects across the region. 

Construction wages were initially slow to increase despite increasing job opportunities, Dyga said. But with a backog of job openings, contractors now need to pay more to attract workers, which is leading to rising construction costs. 

"When you have a shorter supply of either materials or labor, it means that the project is going to cost more," Dyga said. "Why is it costing more? Because we're having to pay higher wages." 

Dyga added that the retirement of older workers combined with the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Haitians, which shielded those workers from deportation, have also contributed to the worker shortage. 

Developers could potentially delay or even shelve construction projects because of the rising labor costs. "It may slow down the pace of what they want to do or their ability to get investors to fund certain projects," Dyga said. 

Matthew Rocco, president of the South Florida Manufacturers' Association, noted that South Florida's manufacturing industry is experiencing a similar trend.

As employers struggle to find laborers, wages are rising for skilled workers like welders and machinists, who Rocco said would be hired almost "immediately."

"Those are very hard positions to fill," he said, adding that the industry is relying on apprenticeships to train new workers and fill the labor shortage. 

Dyga said his construction organization is also trying to train skilled workers. A recent slowdown in residential and condominium development, he said, could also alleviate some of the labor shortage.