Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Business

Florida unemployment flat at 4.9 percent amid a small drop in jobs

Florida's unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent in December, slightly higher than the U.S. rate but lower than the state's level a year earlier.

But while Florida gained 251,400 jobs in 2016, it had 700 fewer nonagricultural jobs in December than in November, according to a report released Friday by the state's Department of Economic Opportunity. Though slight, that was a rare month-to-month decline amid several years of growth.

"Certainly the drop in December is a red flag but you do want to take it with a grain of salt because it is only one month,'' said Scott Brown, chief economist for Raymond James Financial.

"The thing I always try to focus on is the year-over-year number… and there you're still looking at a pretty broad improvement in jobs year over year. Payroll is up 3.1 percent and is again relatively balanced. You're seeing gains in a lot of different sectors.''

Related coverage: When is the next recession going to hit Tampa Bay?

The Tampa Bay area ranked second only to Orlando in employment growth, up 2.2 percent over December 2015. Of the 29,100 new jobs added last year, 8,400 were in construction and 6,700 in professional and business service. The bay area led the state in December with nearly 14,700 openings for high-skilled, high wage jobs, Gov. Rick Scott's office said.

Overall, Florida actually lost 2,700 private sector jobs in December but those were offset by 2,000 new government jobs, for a net loss of 700. Scott did not note Florida's monthly loss of jobs in announcing the latest report.

"Some of what we are seeing in this report really is just a give-back from some pretty strong numbers in November,'' said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist. "Leisure and hospitality sort of stand out in that regard.''

In November, that tourism-related category added 15,500 new jobs compared to around 2,800 in December.

"There (also) seems to be a deceleration in the manufacturing sector the last couple of months,'' Snaith said, "but beyond that I think worrying too much about the December report probably is not warranted given the year-over-year data. We're still growing more than twice as fast as the national economy in terms of jobs growth."

Though Florida's jobless rate is still higher than the 4.7 percent national rate, the total number of new jobs in the state increased 3.1 percent year-over-year compared to 1.5 percent for the country as a whole.

Florida's report came the same day that Donald J. Trump — who has vowed to be "the greatest president for jobs that God ever created'' — took the oath of office as the nation's 45th commander in chief.

Brown questioned whether Trump's pledge to create 25 million jobs over a decade is realistic.

"One of the main stories we' re looking at is the fact the population is getting older and labor force growth is substantially lower than it was a couple of decades ago when Baby Boomers were coming into the labor force and more women were coming in,'' Brown said. "Unless we increase immigration, you're not going to be able to add a lot of jobs. In fact, most people, including Federal Reserve officials, think we're pretty close to full employment at this point.''

Florida, though, is at an advantage over most other states in that its population continues to grow, in turn creating the need for more jobs.

While it gained nearly 30,000 net new jobs last year, the Tampa Bay area lost at least 1,516 jobs through mass layoffs, according to notices employers were required to file with the state. Among the biggest layoffs were 375 by Convergys Corp., an Ohio-based customer management company with several Florida offices, and 192 by America's Auction Network of St. Petersburg.

So far this year, Macy's has announced it will cut 80 employees when it closes its University Square Mall store in Tampa and Advantage Rent-a-Car and E-Z Rent A Car in Tampa plan to lay off 25 employees. And in Palmetto, Feld Entertainment said 462 people will lose their jobs when it ends the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in May after a 146-year run.

Many employers do not report layoffs, so official figures don't reflect the true number of job cuts.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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