South Florida economy and COVID-19 outlook showing promising signs

‘On the mend,’ is how Howard Frank, director of the Metropolitan Center at the International University of Florida, describes South Florida’s economy a year and a half after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic .

“We are still at the highest level of community transmission,” said Dr. Zinzi Bailey, a social epidemiologist at the University of Miami.

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These views on the economy and the virus highlight the continual back-and-forth between the need for business activity and public health protections.

“We cannot separate economics from public health,” Bailey said. “We have to think of both. I think this polarity is really driven more by our politics than reality.”

Florida was one of the first states to reopen after the sudden shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the early weeks of the pandemic. More than a year later, the balance between the need for economic activity and the protection of public health remains as heavy as then.

For the virus and the economy of South Florida – things have improved from what we’ve known, but the recovery from the coronavirus and its economic consequences are far from complete.

Jobs have returned, but there are 200,000 fewer jobs left in South Florida compared to the month before the pandemic. And over 100,000 fewer people are considered to be in the workforce now compared to just before the virus.

courtesy: Pérez Metropolitan Center / FIU

Dr. Howard Frank is the director of the Pérez Metropolitan Center at the FIU, which publishes Economic Recovery Indexes for South Florida.

The hospitality sector has been the hottest place in the job market, growing by more than 60% from the depths of the COVID-induced economic depression. It’s also the most vulnerable to the virus, highlighting how South Florida’s economy remains highly exposed to COVID-19 – and these are jobs that tend to pay less than the average wage.

“I wonder if the people at the bottom of the salary scale are doing an overall reassessment of how much they’re willing to take,” Frank said.

Employers have increased wages in an attempt to attract workers.

“There are signals being sent and I think the job market is responding. [they] be permanent or not, we will see generally sticky wages on the downside. I think the question will be whether these wage gains will cover the cost of living? ”Frank said, referring to the resumption of inflation.

Few companies institute vaccine requirements for workers. Only one in 10 South Florida businesses require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Census Bureau data. A slightly higher percentage requires employees to test negative before coming to work.

Last summer was Florida’s second summer wave of COVID-19. Summer 2021 was different, however – there were vaccines. Companies have started to bring some workers back to the office. And the highly contagious delta strain took hold. Infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths are declining, but the increase in the number of cases was not due to any seasonality of the virus, according to Bailey.

“It has to do with a combination of our behaviors, the delta variant, as well as interacting with politics. We have started to become indoor places again. I know a lot of employers are starting to bring people back into the building. We’ve allowed a lot more events to happen and especially in Florida we actually have intense heat. So a lot of people are being driven inside to share in the joys of air conditioning, ”Bailey said. .

As the pandemic spreads, the economy continues to be subjected to the virus. Passenger traffic at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in August slowed somewhat from the pace of previous months. Hotel room rates and demand also fell in August, according to data from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We have to think about how we’re going to live with COVID because it seems to be getting rampant, which is just another way of saying it’s something that’s going to be with us for a while,” Zinzi said.

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