DeSantis claims credit for jobs record, trolls Biden on same economic boom
WEST PALM BEACH -- In a whiplash political moment, Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit on Friday for the fruits of booming Florida prosperity while simultaneously scourging the Biden administration for all that appears wrong with the same sizzling economy.
Speaking at Retro Fitness in West Palm Beach, DeSantis announced the state added 57,000 jobs in April, which helped lower Florida's unemployment rate to 3%. The bulk of those new jobs came from the leisure and hospitality sector, which appears back to the pre-pandemic, roaring years before 2020.
Between January and March of this year, the Sunshine State saw 36 million visitors. The state is capturing nearly 45% of the market share of overseas travelers, the highest any state has recorded, DeSantis said.
"They're overwhelmingly wanting to come and vacation in Florida. So we're proud of that," he said, taking a shot at public health authorities like Dr. Anthony Fauci. "If we had Fauci'd the tourism industry in Florida, you would have had so many people that would have not been able to provide and it would have been difficult to dig out of a really deep hole."
DeSantis, Democrats have been at odds over pandemic policies
That argument, however, has been a point of contention between DeSantis, the Biden White House and Florida congressional Democrats.
The latter have blasted the governor's management of the pandemic saying his blocking of vaccination requirements and opposition to use of face-coverings have resulted in unnecessary deaths from COVID-19 and its variants. Florida's death toll from the virus is approaching 75,000, a figure that is now 5,000 more than in early epicenter New York.
DeSantis, however, has doubled down against those assertions. On Friday, he said the state's pandemic comeback is partly because Florida was more "open" than others and taking "proactive steps to protect people's quality of life."
"I care about the freedom of the individual to participate in society more than I care about corporate freedom," said DeSantis, who took no questions during his appearance here.
Florida Democrats said Friday's report follows a year of record job growth and low unemployment rates in the state "thanks in large part to President Biden and Democrats’ leadership. "
At the time Biden took office, Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Marcus Dixon said in a statement, more than 600,000 Floridians were unemployed and in need of unemployment assistance.
The Biden administration has slashed that figure in half and, nationwide, the number of Americans relying on unemployment insurance programs is at 1970 level, he said, chiding efforts like U.S. Sen. Rick Scott's 11-point plan to phase out government programs - like Medicare and Social Security - and tax low-income families.
"We are seeing the results of President Biden’s economic plan to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out," Dixon's statement read. "Building on that success, President Biden and Democrats are now working to lower the costs that families face on everything from gas to groceries."
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, credited action by the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and the Biden White House as well.
"The American Rescue Plan got shots in people’s arms, money in people’s pockets, and kept small businesses afloat," she said. "Unemployment is now at 3% nationwide —a historic low. I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to boost our economy and lower the costs for working families across America.”
Red or blue, state's jobs comeback is one for the record books
But, whether blue or red, all may agree Florida’s comeback from the pandemic-triggered collapse two years ago is one for the record books.
On Friday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said the state's employers added a remarkable 517,100 jobs in the past 12 months, a 6% increase. The state unemployment rate for April was down 0.2 of a percentage point from the March report and 2.1 percentage points from a year ago.
All told, the results are an astounding comeback for a state economy that lost more than 1.2 million jobs over two months in early 2020. But led by the recovery of tourism and nine other major industries, Florida has posted an almost 1.5 million job gain over the past 24 months.
There were 321,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 10,543,000, state officials reported.
DeSantis said the economic prosperity has resulted in a financial cushion for the state's finances. A surplus made up 20% of the state's total budget, he said, that is "mostly unallocated general revenue" of which $3 billion is meant for a rainy day fund and another $500 million for disaster response.
"This would not have happened had we listened to a lot of the people that were criticizing us for keeping businesses open, keeping people employed, keeping kids in school," he said. "Those were obviously the right decisions. They were decisions that other states were not following and certain states were not ... We've never had a stronger fiscal position."
Opponents argue, however, that cushion is the result of billions of dollars in federal largesse handed out as COVID aid and economic stimulus.
Palm Beach County sets another record low unemployment rate, too
Locally, CareerSource Palm Beach County said the county's jobless rate plummeted to 2.3% as some 33,800 jobs were added to payrolls in the past year. The unemployment number for April broke the previous record low, just set in March, of 2.6%.
The unprecedented lows are even more remarkable considering the state of the economy 24 months ago at the onset of the coronavirus global pandemic. In April 2020, Palm Beach County's unemployment rate topped 14.7% — the highest recorded outside of the Great Depression era.
CareerSource said the return of the region's tourism sector, known as leisure and hospitality category, again led employment growth by adding 12,000 jobs in the past year for a 14.9% gain. But job growth was potent in other industry sectors — information, financial activities, education/health services, and government.
The bad news continues to be for employers looking to hire workers.
For 10 straight months now, the number of posted job openings has far exceeded the number of individuals needing work in Palm Beach County — 40,134 job openings versus 17,262 unemployed people.
Rather than narrowing, that gap has exploded in recent months.
“On average there are two jobs available for every unemployed person and many employers cannot fill jobs fast enough,” said Julia Dattolo, President and CEO of CareerSource Palm Beach County, the nonprofit organization chartered by the state to lead workforce development in Palm Beach County. “That said, we are closely watching to see if there will be a seasonal softening in local employment and how the effects of rising costs for products and services such as housing, insurance, gas, and food impact the labor market in the coming months.”
DeSantis lauds state reserves, warns of a recession ahead
Florida's red-hot economy has also been fueled by people migrating to the Sunshine State from places where more restrictive COVID policies were enacted and those states that levy personal income taxes, economists and real estate professionals have said.
The boomerang effect from that population growth has been to aggravate the availability of affordable homes for purchase as well as skyrocketing rental rates in urban markets across the state.
The affordability challenges from surging home prices is happening in less populated parts of Florida, too. In panhandle Escambia and Okaloosa counties, for example, home prices have surged by nearly 20% in the past year.
And also in Florida, property owners are getting hammered by sharp increases for insurance coverage, while many thousands of others have had their policies canceled. The governor and the Republican-led Legislature will meet next week in a special session to enact reforms.
DeSantis also warned of a potential recession down the road, for which he again placed blame on the president.
"I think our job here in the state of Florida is to make sure that we're positioned to deal with some of these things that are beyond our control and protect Floridians as best we can," he said. "We can’t control what Washington's doing, we can’t control a lot of the policies that have been very destructive, but when you have those types of fiscal reserves, if we did have a slowdown and our revenue came in less, I don’t have to change anything."