published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Low wages major hurdle to improving county's economy
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Heartland Workforce released its annual report for 2011-2012 this week.
On the positive side, Workforce President and CEO Roger Hood said, "We're seeing more vacancies than last year, and the unemployment percentage has gone down."
For example, he said, on Dec. 30, 2010 the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in Highlands County, while on Dec. 30, 2011 the rate was 7.8 percent.
"That's a significant reduction," Hood said. Another sign of progress, he added, is that in December the region was first in job placements out of the 49 Workforce regions. "I'm proud of that."
What the lower unemployment rate means, Hood explained, "is that the number of job seekers went down. Do all these people have jobs," he asked rhetorically. "I don't know, but the data show they are probably employed now when they weren't (a year ago)."
Hood is worried about a more dangerous problem.
"The thing that concerns me," he said, "is that wages are degraded. (Creating) more jobs is not good enough, it's about creating more quality jobs," he said. "A self-sufficiency wage for Highlands County is $12.80. How does a family survive on less," Hood asked. Yet, according to state data, he added, Highlands, Desoto and Hardee counties have the lowest average wages in the state.
Part of the reason for this is because agriculture and the hospitality and food industry are the two largest segments of employers. The jobs offered in those fields typically pay at or below minimum wage.
"That effects the quality of life," Hood said. People need disposable income to spend for an economy to thrive, he explained. A thriving economy creates the value added life.
"But how do we improve," Hood asked. "How do we tackle that?
"I'm not totally proud of how we've worked together," he said, referring to the county's agencies and leaders. "It's essential that elected officials unite with educational leaders and businesses to make the county and its upcoming workforce more competitive. We need a common focus," Hood said. "It's an equation that's hard to balance, but we've got to work together."
There are events happening that could affect the three counties favorably, he added, like the deepening and widening of the Panama Canal, which will provide new opportunities, especially in transportation and the developing bio-mass fuel industry.
Teacher's salary (by: Blindman - 1/26/2013)
Highlands County median teacher's salary is over 44k per year, the 12th highest in our state. They make about double the average employee wage in the county and they get a pension when they retire, for life!
Low wages (by: Llewellyn D. Rinald - 1/26/2013)
I started being aware of our countys problems when Doctors that were good -and "Young "began moving out ..I am also alarmed that our teachers have such poor salaries-what is really important to our county-Where are our young graduates going to live and work-Not here. when I moved back to this county in 1972 .I was optomistic and thought that we were really going places as a progressive area-I now think that we have a lot to work on -Hopefully in the near future.
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