|By Emily Roach, The Palm Beach Post,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 15, 2012--More people are staying at hotels, rooms are more expensive and the county is pulling in more bed tax revenues.
So why isn't that translating to jobs, according to the monthly Labor Department reports? Some point to leaner payrolls post-recession, but economists say some of the data is questionable.
Hoteliers are seeing improved occupancy rates and room rates, said Manny O'Neill, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton in Palm Beach Gardens and president of the county Hotel & Lodging Association.
"Everybody is enjoying an increase in business even through June, July and August, which are traditionally down times," O'Neill said. But that doesn't translate directly to jobs, he warned.
Bed tax collections, as the tax on hotel rooms is called, jumped 27.5 percent in June, the county Tourist Development Council reported. While each month can vary compared to the previous year's collections, the county is on track for a 9 percent increase over last year's revenues. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
But leisure and hospitality jobs -- those jobs in hotels, restaurants, amusement parks and other tourism-related industries -- have shown a steep drop since November, compared to the same month the prior year. According to the June count by the Labor Department, there were 4,600 fewer jobs in leisure and hospitality fields than June 2011. July figures are due Friday.
Cathy Hart of Boynton Beach believes it's worse this year. She ran housekeeping services for 15 years at a local retirement community and then worked at a pest control company for four years, but she's been unemployed for the past year.
"When I went out looking for work I found it immediately five years ago," she said. But now: "I've lowered my requirements just to get my foot in the door and work."
Jobs in leisure and hospitality are down 12.5 percent from five years ago, when the recession was just hitting Florida and jobs were at their peak in Palm Beach County. But the number of people employed in the industry was down last month nearly 7 percent from the previous July, according to a Labor Department survey of businesses. Figures for restaurants and bars were down more than lodging.
Tourism businesses are running lean just like every other business, O'Neill said.
"In the past several years as we have downsized, we are doing more with less," he said.
Gone are the days hoteliers brought on extra staff to set up for a big luncheon or the departure rush. Now staff from other departments help out at key times. People are cross-trained and work more efficiently.
But the drop in jobs is not reflected in a variety of other measurements, said economist William Stronge, who works with local agencies through the Economic Development Research Institute. "I think it's a problem with the numbers," Stronge said.
In November, the job figures for leisure and hospitality suddenly dropped by 5,100 people employed.
Unfortunately, once bad data enters the calculations, it takes months to work it out. The monthly reports are based on estimates and algorithms.
"I do think we'll eventually get some adjustment done," said Peter Pignataro, Workforce Alliance's manager of performance analysis.
In fact, a more accurate survey that is based on unemployment insurance payments shows a steady increase in leisure and hospitality jobs last year. The results of the survey are delayed six or seven months.
Stronge said the new information in the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages implies a sampling error in the monthly data from the Current Employment Statistics survey.
Chief Economist Rebecca Rust of the Department of Economic Opportunity said she expects the hospitality numbers to be revised up for Palm Beach County. While the data collected probably wasn't wrong, it's possible an atypical number from a surveyed business was adjusted differently than in the past.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics took over the survey in 2009 for all states. But there have been some questions about how seasonal adjustments and atypical adjustments are made in cases like Palm Beach County, where the figures don't seem to match other data, Rust said.
Revisions won't happen until March. In the meantime, the numbers may worry local business people and tourism workers, but they don't affect any state or federal funding.
As an experienced hotel worker, Jean Ridore of Delray Beach, who was at a hospitality job fair Tuesday, said he thinks the job situation is better than last year. But that doesn't make jobs plentiful. He's been looking since he was laid off in February.
"I looked everywhere," he said. But he's not hearing back.
Bed tax figures
Revenue % change over prior year
Sept. $1.21 million + 23.8 %
Oct. $1.45 million +34.3 %
Nov. $1.90 million -9.6 %
Dec. $2.50 million +8.0 %
Jan. $3.27 million +20.8%
Feb. $3.67 million +0.1 %
March $4.02 million +9.7%
April $2.85 million +10.4%
May $1.93 million -2.9 %
June $2.96 million* +130.2%*
-- Includes $1.3 million from lawsuit settlement with online reservation companies. Collections were $1.63 million without the settlement, a 27.5 % jump over June 2011.
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