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Fishkind Conversations: leisure and hospitality led a surge in job growth in Florida for October

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Hank Fishkind. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Florida’s economy added 41,500 jobs in October and the unemployment rate dropped by 0.2% to 4.6%. 

Economic analyst Dr. Hank Fishkind, president of Fishkind Litigation Services, tells WMFE’s Matthew Peddie it’s a positive sign for the economy, even if Central Florida lagged behind the rest of the state in job growth. 

Matthew Peddie: Hank, the October jobs report is pretty strong: a gain of 41,500 jobs and the unemployment rate dipping to 4.6% with job growth outpacing a surge in the labor force. It sounds pretty good. What’s your take on it?

Hank Fishkind: It is a very strong report. Florida ranked fourth in the United States that job growth in October, and the gain of 41,500 jobs, it was propelled by a big jump of 16,600 jobs and leisure and hospitality, most of that in the accommodations and food services. And there were notable gains in retailing, education, health care and business and professional services. And those offset losses in manufacturing, but those were mostly due to supply chain issues and will be temporary.

MP: What about all those jobs that went away during the pandemic? Have they come back yet?

HF: Almost. You know, Florida lost 1.3 million jobs from February to April of 2020. And since then, we’ve gained back over a million, or about 87%, of what was lost. But the current pace of job growth. It’s gonna take another eight months to fully get all those jobs back, Matt.

MP: Okay. So if we zoom in to Central Florida, how did this area do?

HF: It was pretty disappointing, actually. Employment rose a modest 2,600 in Orlando. Now to put that in perspective, that’s up two tenths of a percent during the month compared to half a percentage point gain statewide. Daytona added 800 jobs in October; Palm Bay- Melbourne, 700. But again, these gains were well below the statewide averages. And all of that was really quite surprising.

MP: And why is that?

HF: The tourism numbers for the July to September 3rd Quarter, you know, they rebounded so strongly, they’re now up above their levels from 2019. And with this big surge in tourism, I really thought we’d see stronger job gains in Central Florida. With the expectation of a very strong winter tourism season, I’m confident that we’re going to see that job growth accelerate over the next few months. But even so, there’s some important changes that evidently are happening in our tourism market. And they’re really going to be key to the outlook going forward.

MP:  So tell me more about that.

HF: Despite the jump in volume of tourists in the third quarter, hotel occupancy rates remain far below where they were in 2019, even though the total number of tourists is the same or higher. For example, the occupancy rate for hotels in Orange County was just 60% in October, compared to 77% in October of 2019. In Osceola County, the figures were 52% Compared to 64%. Melbourne was about the same and in Volusia County, they were almost the same as 2019. So even with a lot more visitors in 2021 than in 2019, occupancy rates haven’t recovered. Added to that, business travel and attendance at meetings and conventions remains very depressed and will continue to be so. Now fortunately, some of this weakness is going to be offset by the resumption of international travel. And we’re already getting some flows from Canada and the UK and that will accelerate. But the complexion of visitor spending evidently has shifted somewhat.

MP: It’s interesting about occupancy rates not keeping pace with tourism numbers coming back and begs the question, where are all these people staying while visiting Central Florida?

HF: Well, they’re doubling up or staying not at hotels, and they’re conserving funds. I think that some of that will change over time. But it is a surprise.

MP: What about the concern about not enough workers in the labor pool, or returning to the labor market, and how that might limit economic growth? What can you tell us about how central Florida did in that regard in October?

HF: Despite only modest job growth, Orlando’s labor force participation rates improved significantly more than the national statewide averages. That’s very encouraging. It means more people are willing and more people are able to join the labor force. And I think we’re going to need them to satisfy the job growth I’m expecting over the upcoming months.

MP: Dr. Hank Fishkind is the president of Fishkind Litigation Services. Thanks, Hank.

HF: Thank you, Matt.

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Matthew Peddie

About Matthew Peddie

Host of WMFE's Intersection & Assistant News Director

Matthew Peddie grew up in New Zealand and studied journalism at the University of Western Ontario. After graduating with an MA in Journalism he returned to Christchurch, working as a reporter for Radio Live and Radio New Zealand. He’s reported live from the scene of earthquakes, criminal trials and rugby ... Read Full Bio »