The bike ride was great: The sun leavened thick grey clouds into white wisps in a sunny blue sky. The temperature was in the low '80's, and the humidity was low--at least for Florida.
I rode over some bike lanes toward the water. Along the way, I passed a "City Center" that was built at the peak of the real estate market, about four or five years ago. The windows are still blocked by that thick brown paper you see in buildings that have recently been completed but have not opened.
This part of Florida is full of commercial and housing developments like that. The so-called "European Village" has only about half of its stores/restaurants--and much smaller percentage of its condominiums--occupied. When The Village opened five years ago, the owners were asking $250,000 for a two-bedroom condo. Now you can get one for $40,000, but no financing is available.
In 2010, this county and the neighboring county had two of the highest unemployment rates in the country. The situation hasn't improved: The official jobless rate still hovers around 18 percent in both counties. And this is in an area where many people, such as retirees, aren't looking for jobs!
Some might say that this area is an "extreme case"--or, if you're more academically inclined, an "outlier"--as this is one of the worst housing and job markets in the country. However, some things about it are negative harbingers for the rest of the country. One is the fact that so many young people--some of them recent graduates--can't find work. Plus, even experienced workers in a variety of areas can't get work. Another bad sign is the high vacancy rates.
About three decades ago, Megatrends author John Naisbitt identified Florida as one of the "bellwether" states. In some ways, it has proved to be one--although the current situation isn't quite what Naisbitt had in mind. Actually, more than anything, it makes me think of what Albert Camus wrote in La Peste (The Plague): death came out of the clear blue sky.
And it continues through the day on which people commemorate the Resurrection of Christ.