What the unemployment numbers can't tell us is how many of those jobs pay a living wage. Northwest Florida has a reputation for having fairly low wages with fairly high housing costs, particularly the rental market.
The release of the most recent unemployment numbers meant good news for Florida and especially good news for Northwest Florida.
The rate, which hovers just above 3 percent, indicates that most people who want to work can work. While it may rise with seasonal unemployment, a spate of hiring before the holiday season may help keep it in check.
What that number can’t tell us, though, is how many of those jobs pay a living wage. Northwest Florida has a reputation for having fairly low wages with fairly high housing costs, particularly when it comes to the rental market.
Our fleet of military bases brings a steady stream of young military personnel to the area, each with a housing allowance that tends to exceed what the average young person can easily afford. It’s been that way for decades.
Move to another part of the country and you may find a one-bedroom apartment for around $400. That would be a steal here and you’re far more likely to be paying $600 and up for an apartment, even in some of the small towns. Truth is, it's a hard place to move to if you aren't military.
But it's still good news that the local economy can support the number of people who want to work. Three percent references the average number of people who are unemployed by choice, rather than a lack of available opportunities.
The military is, of course a primary driver of the economy, as is tourism. Students looking for seasonal work can take their choice and, often, earn well over minimum wage, despite their relative lack of skills and experience. It's an employees' market, good for job seekers; perhaps less desirable for employers.
Over the years, Northwest Florida has always fared relatively well when it comes to low unemployment.
It seems we have it all. Some of the world's most beautiful beaches, restaurants and shopping to match, lodging galore and some high-paying defense industry jobs to round it all out.
We can't see around corners and predict what the next months and years will bring.
But good news is worth celebrating and it's comforting to know that those with a will to work can find a way. Let's hope it continues and that Northwest Florida residents continue to thrive.