April 07, 2022

What Pensacola's Rising Wages Mean for the Job Market

Two years after many industries took a nosedive and much of the labor market came to a halt, experts say Pensacola's job market is almost back to where it was pre-pandemic, and wages have risen as employers try to stay competitive to stave off the great resignation.

Unemployment as of February was at 3.4% — just over the 3.2% rate it was in early 2020 — and sectors like finance, hospital services and retail have surged beyond where they were in 2020.

"I kind of feel like 2021 was more a recovery year. ... (Now) job demand is very high in our area," said Landrum HR Vice President of Workforce Solutions Jim Howe. "And when you layer it on top of the fact our labor force has actually grown over the last two years, it means we have more people in our labor force than pre-pandemic, which is a good sign for our local economy."

Pensacola's average weekly wages up by about $75 from 2020
Data from the University of West Florida's Haas Center shows that the total number of people in the workforce has risen by 4,000 people to about 225,000 compared to two years ago.

It also shows the average weekly wage in the Pensacola MSA is up to $975 from about $900 in early 2020, a sign that employers have adjusted their wages as an incentive for people to stay put in their jobs.

Last summer, for example, saw a frenzy in which numerous businesses — especially fast food and retail — were advertising signing bonuses worth hundreds of dollars and other incentives for onboarding. But Howe said the rise in wages is a positive sign that instead of a desperate plea for workers, employers are now trending toward making wages more livable in the first place.

"I think there was a lot of demand that happened about a year ago and we saw a lot of incentives being thrown out there," he said. "Today there's a little more of a feel like ‘I need people but I'm not going to act desperately,' and so I haven't personally seen the amount of incentives we had then. I think a lot of companies adjusted pay rates and moved to a level more in line with skills they were looking for so they didn't have to offer incentives."

Tourism rebounds, but hospitality and government services still lag
Two sectors that have not caught back up are hospitality and government services.

The travel and tourism industry immediately plummeted as the pandemic took effect in spring 2020, forcing many businesses to close, alter hours or alter operations to deal with shifting requirements. While the Haas Center data shows it has come back almost to pre-pandemic levels, it's still about 2.5% behind where it was, and government services is still down about 5%.

While labor experts say employees still have the upper hand in the job market, it's become a little more balanced as long as the wages and benefits are there from the outset. 

"The good thing employers are telling me is they're starting to be more selective in terms of who they're hiring, so I think that shows they're in a position to pick the folks they want as opposed to the folks they need," said Pensacola Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Thomson. "I hear it often that it's still very competitive though and to stay competitive they're having to offer more wages or flexible hours, those sorts of things."

Influx of new Pensacola residents could be contributing to wage growth
An element that may be impacting the higher wage growth, according to Haas Center Executive Director Nicole Gislason, is the fact that statistics are drawn on jobs where people pay taxes, meaning that the influx of residents from larger cities that has happened this last year could have played a role. So, if someone is living and working in Pensacola but for a company based out of Atlanta, for example, their wage data would be classified under Pensacola's MSA, not Atlanta's, and those bigger city wages tend to be higher.

Experts have said as many as 1,000 people per day are moving to Florida, and Pensacola-area Realtors have long given anecdotal stories of the local housing market flooded with buyers from out-of-state who see the Panhandle's prices as much more affordable than what they're used to.

"As long as we're able to maintain a good quality of life here in Pensacola, we'll be a good attractive location to live and work remotely from, but if for whatever reason we're unattractive, we could lose people for that same reason," she said. "It's important that we maintain a good quality of life that includes strong education, excellent health care, walkable communities and a great environment."

Look for manufacturing jobs to return in the coming years
Still, Pensacola's MSA tracks behind Mobile, Alabama, and Destin, which both see slightly higher weekly wages at about $1,045, with a focus on higher paying government or manufacturing jobs Pensacola doesn't yet have. Gislason said if there's one sector to watch in the area in coming years, it's manufacturing. 

Plesase visit the PNJ website to read the original article.