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'Room for improvement': US labor secretary cites weak hiring in hospitality industry

Anna Jean Kaiser, Miami Herald on

Published in Business News

U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh said Friday that he sees “room for improvement” in job growth in the hospitality sector, a key part of South Florida’s economy, after a disappointing November jobs report.

“There’s room for improvement in hospitality and room for growth in tourism, which is a big driver of the economy in a lot of places in Florida,” Walsh said in an interview with The Miami Herald.

The report found that 23,000 jobs were added to the hospitality sector nationwide, a fraction of the 170,000 jobs gained in the sector in October. Hospitality, which was devastated at the beginning of the pandemic, is still down 1.3 million jobs, or 7.9%, compared to February 2020, before lockdown measures began.

Many employers in the hospitality industry have been plagued by staffing shortages that have persisted for months. Walsh said the Biden administration sees vaccination as the key to filling that gap.

“We have to make sure workers feel safe, a lot of people feel working with the public is unsafe,” he said. “The best thing we can do is message: Get vaccinated, get boosted, take the best personal care of your health.”

Walsh said he saw positive signs in Florida’s residential construction sector.

 

“The construction sector saw good job growth and South Florida has done a lot of housing construction,” Walsh said. The most recent jobs report said that 31,000 construction jobs were added across the country in November; it is still down 115,000 jobs from the pre-pandemic level.

Overall, only 210,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy in November, making it another disappointing month for the Biden administration. However, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.2%, down from 4.6% in November. Walsh pointed out that Hispanic unemployment fell to 5.2% — down from 5.7% in October and 8.4% in November 2020. The unemployment rate for Black Americans fell by over one percentage point, going from 7.9% to 6.7%.

“Black unemployment is down by a full percentage point and Hispanic unemployment is down almost a full percent, that’s another good sign,” he said.

When asked about the looming threat of the omicron variant, Walsh said the administration remains vigilant.

“The new variant is cause for concern, but not panic. We’ve learned a lot since the beginning of the pandemic and we can push against this new variant using science and speed,” he said. “We don’t know the implications of this new variant, we have to collectively work together. The best protection is to get fully vaccinated and boosted.”

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