Florida leads country in job growth while unemployment rate dips to 10-year low

In the Tampa Bay area, the unemployment rate remained steady, holding at April's 3.8 percent. 

Florida's unemployment rate dropped in May to 4.3 percent. Pictured is a 2016 job fair at the Coliseum Ballroom in St. Petersburg. | [Scott Keeler, Times]
Florida's unemployment rate dropped in May to 4.3 percent. Pictured is a 2016 job fair at the Coliseum Ballroom in St. Petersburg. | [Scott Keeler, Times]
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What economic slowdown?

Florida's unemployment rate fell for the third month in a row to hit an almost 10-year low as the state led the country in job creation, state officials reported Friday.

In adding nearly 30,000 jobs during May, Florida has moved closer to full employment, meaning a minimal likelihood of bigger rate drops in coming months, economists said.

Florida's unemployment rate dropped to 4.3 percent in May, down from 4.5 percent in April, to reach the lowest mark since August 2007.

Tampa Bay's unemployment rate remained steady, holding April's 3.8 percent. Hillsborough County's stayed at 3.7 percent from April to May, as did Pinellas at 3.6 percent and Hernando at 5 percent. Pasco dropped a tenth of a percentage point to 4.2 percent in May.

"Over the year, the Tampa area added more than 41,000 new jobs and led the state in job growth for several industries, which is great news," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.

Florida also added the second highest number of construction jobs of any state over the past year — 31,000. California created the most construction jobs for the same period: 38,900.

Business and professional services gained the most jobs across the state — 12,300 since April and 52,900 for the year. Leisure and hospitality, education and health services also added jobs.

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According to Chris McCarty, director of the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research, the unemployment rate can go down for two reasons: either more people became employed, or more people left the labor force. This month, he said, it appears that more people became employed, lowering the unemployment rate.

"That decline is probably something that's pretty good," he said, but it's important to keep an eye on how Florida's labor force participation compares to the national rate. Both McCarty and PNC Financial economist Mekael Teshome expect the unemployment rate won't dip much further.

"We're pretty much at the low for Tampa, but it could get a little lower — closer to 4 percent," Teshome said. How much more it drops will be determined by how fast the workforce grows and how well businesses can fill the job openings they have.

"We've got a lot of momentum; it's just that a lot of people are entering the work force and not every job opening is being filled," Teshome said.

Tampa Bay added 7,000 jobs in May, totaling 43,000 since May 2016. Among major Florida metros, only Orlando had more job gains at 7,800 for the month and 48,000 since last year.

The job gains, however, didn't necessarily translate to bigger paychecks.

Typically, a stronger hiring environment leads to higher wages, UF's McCarty said. But that hasn't happened. That could be in part because of the shift toward gig economy jobs and part-time temporary jobs.

"The jobs that we've created are by and large not as good as the jobs we had before," he said.

Contact Malena Carollo at [email protected] or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo on Twitter.

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