Florida's unemployment rate stays at 3.3 percent in December

Tampa Bay's unemployment rate rose to 3.2 percent in December 2018 from 3 percent the previous month.
Florida’s unemployment rate remained at 3.3 percent in December 2018 compared to the prior month, according to state figures released Friday. Pictured is a job fair in 2018.   [Times (2018)]
Florida’s unemployment rate remained at 3.3 percent in December 2018 compared to the prior month, according to state figures released Friday. Pictured is a job fair in 2018. [Times (2018)]
Published January 18
Updated January 18

Florida closed out 2018 with continued strong jobs numbers, recording a 3.3 percent unemployment rate in December, unchanged from the previous month. It also added 22,800 jobs over the month, according to state figures released Friday.

"When we look at the overall numbers, the things that are most encouraging are very strong job growth," Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said, and that the growth "is broad-based."

Tampa Bay's unemployment rate rose to 3.2 percent in December from 3 percent the previous month. Hillsborough County's jobless rate increased to 3.1 percent from 2.9 percent in November 2018, Hernando County jumped to 4.3 percent from 3.9 percent the previous month, Pinellas County inched up to 3.1 percent from 2.8 percent in November 2018 and Pasco jumped to 3.6 percent from the previous month's 3.3 percent.

The bay area added the third-highest number of jobs of any state metro area over the year (22,400 jobs) after Orlando at No. 1 (51,300 jobs) and Miami at No. 2 (23,700 jobs).

Sectors that added the most jobs over the year statewide included education and health services (54,000 jobs), followed by leisure and hospitality (45,800 jobs) and professional and business services (39,300 jobs).

One of the only areas to struggle in December was the Panhandle, which is still recovering from Hurricane Michael. Gulf County had the highest unemployment rate at 7.9 percent, followed by Mexico Beach and Panama City's Bay County (5.9 percent), and Franklin, Hendry and Sumter counties (5 percent).

Nationally, the unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in December, up slightly from 3.7 percent a month earlier.

Concerns of a recession on the horizon, Vitner said, are largely driven by December's stock market sell-off and a slight slowing in the housing market. But, Vitner said, consumer spending and tourism, two other indicators of economic health, are still strong.

"The risk of recession has increased, but it's not the most likely outcome," he said. "Most likely we're going to see that growth will slow."

While Vitner expects most of the slowdown to happen toward the later half of the year, the first quarter may also be somewhat sluggish because of the government shutdown.

"It's definitely a drag on the economy," he said. "I think it may make a close call as to whether we have (gross domestic product) growth of 1 percent or less in the first quarter."

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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