In our post-Hurricane Irma world, some grim, albeit not official, numbers are emerging well beyond the number of buildings destroyed and people left homeless.
We’ve all seen the help-wanted signs go up at businesses up and down the Keys. That’s because so many of them have lost staff, likely people who have decided that the risk of living here and having weather again turn their lives upside down is not worth calling Paradise home any longer.
Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, closed for the foreseeable future, laid off 260 people earlier this month. Other large resorts have done the same as they try to rebuild or consider other options. Many fast-food joints, mom-and-pop operations and others also are struggling with staff shortages.
So what does this mean? It likely means that the cost of living in Monroe County, already among the most expensive counties among Florida’s 67, will go up even further. That’s because to lure staff, businesses likely will have to pay more, which in turn could result in higher prices at the cash register.
The University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research’s 2016 Florida Price Level Index, which measures the costs of living in a community, puts Monroe at No. 3 in the cost of living, behind only Palm Beach County and Collier County.
In addition to possible higher costs for basic goods, there will likely be higher costs for housing because so many housing units were lost to the Category 4 Irma on Sept. 10. Basic supply and demand. So while wages might go up, so would the amount of money needed to live here.
According to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, about 1,535 people countywide were jobless in September out of the county’s workforce of 46,628. That was the first month in years that Monroe didn’t have the lowest unemployment rate in any given month and Irma is the reason.
What Irma has done, or should have done, is finally be the wake-up call we in the Florida Keys need to address serious issues that always are discussed but never really addressed — worker wages and the cost of actual, real affordable housing.
The Monroe County School Board on Tuesday was set to discuss the possibility of building housing for School District staff on property at Sugarloaf School in the Lower Keys. Board member Andy Griffiths believes it can be done quickly, but there are many hurdles, including environmental and financial. The district can’t just start building where and when it wants.
But that discussion is a start. We should have had it sooner. Perhaps it’s the one good thing Irma gave us.