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Florida chamber's economist predicts more jobs, population

Bobby Caina Calvan
The Associated Press
Walton Sun

TALLAHASSEE — An economist for Florida's leading business advocacy group predicts that the state will continue to outpace the nation on key economic measures and add another 200,000 new jobs this year — but warned that a ballot proposal to hike the state's hourly minimum wage to $15 clouded an otherwise rosy picture.

The mostly bullish outlook was delivered by the Florida Chamber Foundation's chief economist, Jerry Parrish, during a teleconference Thursday morning.

"The big threat I see coming that will affect Florida's economy is the impact that a $15 minimum wage will have on our state," he said. "Increases in the minimum wage sound like a good idea to many people, but what happens in a lot of cases is that it ultimately hurts the very people its supporters claim that it will help."

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Voters in November will decide whether to hike the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

Advocates say the hike is necessary to give working people living wages. They argue that the lowest-paid workers earn less today than low-wage earners 50 years ago, despite the dramatic economic growth during that same period.

Other factors could slow down the economy, Parrish said, including trade wars and tariffs that could cause uncertainty in many sectors of the economy, including Florida's sizable agriculture industries.

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But consumer confidence will continue buoy the state's economy, he said.

Parrish said there's a low risk of a recession this year. At the end of 2019, the unemployment rate had dipped to 3.1%, the lowest since 2006.

Florida's population will continue rising in 2020, perhaps by as many as 900 new residents a day. But there will be plenty of jobs to go around, with nearly 285,000 jobs currently open.

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Veering into political territory, Mark Wilson, president and CEO of Florida's Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged several high-stakes issues in 2020, including the minimum wage measure and the upcoming presidential elections and Census count that could determine whether the state expands its representation in Congress.

Wilson credited Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led legislature for helping what he called a business-friendly climate.

"All eyes are on Florida. All eyes are on Gov. DeSantis. All eyes are on the momentum that collectively we're building in Florida," Wilson said.