Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Florida unemployment drops; Tampa Bay leads state in job growth

Tampa Bay led the state in new hires last month as Florida's job market brightened, with the state's unemployment rate dipping to its lowest point in four years.

About 10,000 jobs were added locally last month, sinking Tampa Bay's jobless rate from 8 percent to 7.4 percent in one month, state data released Friday show.

With 33,000 jobs added since February 2012, Tampa Bay's year-over-year job growth bested every metro area in the state.

Work forces swelled in every local county, including hard-hit Hernando, where last month's unemployment rate was more than 3 percentage points below where it was a year ago.

"The Tampa to Orlando corridor will be an important one when it comes to job growth," University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said. "This bodes well for the future of the region. But we still have a lot of ground to make up."

The state added 7,800 jobs last month as unemployment sunk to 7.7 percent, down from January's revised rate of 7.9 percent. Florida has extended its year-over-year hiring gains to 31 months in a row.

Gov. Rick Scott said Friday in Orlando that efforts to cut taxes and pay down state debt were paying off.

With "nearly 300,000 private sector jobs created over the last two years, we have proof that it's working," Scott said.

State unemployment has not been this low since October 2008, when it was 7.4 percent. But of the state's 9.4 million-strong labor force, 729,000 remain out of work. In a typical healthy economy, Florida's jobless rate would fall below 6 percent.

The unemployment rate doesn't count the thousands of Floridians who have stopped looking for work. Though the Sunshine State gained 217,000 adults over the last year, data show, the labor force gained only 92,000 jobs.

Many of those now sitting on the sidelines could start looking for work again, dragging down the recovering job market.

About 10,000 jobs were added in Tampa Bay last month, though 100,000 remained out of work.

Local numbers, which are not tweaked for seasonal changes, are regarded as less reliable than the state's seasonally adjusted figures.

The lion's share of new Florida jobs were in leisure and hospitality, though retailers, health care and professional services like accounting and technical consulting also gained thousands of jobs.

Workplaces with the biggest gains in new jobs last month included colleges and universities, tax preparation offices, and amusement parks and arcades.

Courier and messenger firms and stores selling sporting goods, books and music, counted the highest rates of job losses last month. About 11,000 government jobs have been cut since last February.

Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8252.

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