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Are Living Wage Jobs Difficult to Find in Southwest Florida?



Richard Borge

Our region may boast summertime temperatures nearly year-round, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy living. In fact, a recent study suggests some find trouble in paradise when trying to make ends meet.

CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International’s second quarter Labor Market 150 Index report ranked the Collier County area as one of the bottom 10 metros for living wage jobs, or jobs that pay enough to support one’s basic living expenses. Calculations were based on income requirements of a family of two adults and one child, with a sole provider.

He or she would need to bring in an estimated $45,083 per year before taxes to cover living expenses in metro Naples-Marco Island, according to a living wage calculator created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In the Fort Myers-Cape Coral metro area, the sole provider would need to earn an estimated $43,571 per year.

And with the region’s economy heavily driven by tourism, those salaries can be challenging to come by.

Southwest Florida—comprising Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties—employed some 460,799 people in 2014, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Of those people, 55,261—about 12 percent— worked as food preparers and servers. In Florida, those workers make an average $19,090 a year, according to MIT’s wage calculator.

“It’s true most of our employment comes from the tourism industry, like food and beverage and hospitality, which aren’t the high-paying jobs,” says Curt Bradbury, communications manager at CareerSource Southwest Florida, a career development network that helps match employers with job candidates in the region.

MIT’s table lists 22 occupation types. Fifteen of them pay less than living wage in Florida on average. The highest-paid occupation is management ($97,550 per year), which accounted for 25,025 Southwest Florida jobs in 2014, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity data.

Regional professionals and officials have recognized the unbalanced industry sectors and have been hard at work to facilitate change.

“During the last year, Lee County has contracted for the creation of 403 high-wage jobs through its incentive programs. These new jobs will in turn create additional support positions throughout our local economy,” says Glen Salyer, economic development director and assistant to the county manager.

Those projects include the Lee County Job Opportunity Program, which is designed to bring highvalue jobs to the area, and the Lee County FIRST Program—aimed to invite and grow big business endeavors.

“As we attract other industries, those jobs come with the expansions,” Bradbury says. “We don’t just create management; we have to attract businesses. Most likely, [companies] are going to want to see the workforce match their requirements before they commit to moving here.”

Some major companies, like The Hertz Corp., have already chosen to set up shop in Southwest Florida.

And while supplying more employment opportunities in higher-paying industries is a gradual process, experts say there are ways people can better position themselves for those openings.

Bradbury stresses the importance of education.

Beyond a diploma, Christopher Westley, Regional Economic Research Institute director and economics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, says developing a unique skill set makes a person more valuable to a company.

“Education is not an end in itself; you have to learn a skill that makes you more productive,” says Westley. “Skills increase wage.”

 

 

 

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