Once a job-generating machine, Florida led the nation in job losses in July. For the third straight month. And Tampa Bay is the state's hardest-hit metro area.
Thousands of Florida private sector workers lost their jobs last month as the unemployment rate jumped to 6.1 percent, its highest level in 13 years, state officials said Friday. That's a dramatic increase from the previous month's 5.5 percent and a sharp rise above the U.S. average of 5.7 percent.
"It's the credit crunch that's prolonging Florida's misery," said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida. "That's preventing this excess housing from being absorbed at a faster rate. Until that balance is restored, we're going to be in this downward trend."
The state had 96,800 fewer jobs in July than it did a year ago, largely because of the falloff in construction, which lost 79,200 jobs over the past year. Manufacturing, business services and finance and insurance also have suffered. The state trend of negative year-over-year job numbers began in September and shows no sign of easing.
The Tampa Bay area is leading the way with the loss of 16,100 jobs over the past year, a 1.3 percent decline. Unemployment in the Tampa Bay area was 6.6 percent for July, up from 5.9 percent in June. The biggest job problem: losses in employment services, including professional employer organizations, which take over payroll and other personnel functions for companies.
"In strong economic times, they're a high-growth industry, but in slower economic times, they have less business and they see a decline in employment," said Rebecca Rust, economist for the Agency for Workforce Innovation.
Job losses hurt in any state, but they are particularly painful in Florida, where strong job growth was once the norm. For several years, Florida was the national pace setter in job growth, a winning streak that lasted through October 2005, when Florida gained 313,400 jobs over the previous year.
"You can't stay white hot forever and obviously we didn't," Snaith said. "Unemployment rates fell to levels that really are unsustainably low. The epicenter, the nucleus of it all is housing. That was what drove unemployment so low and that's what's driving it higher now."
Construction spending — some of it related to hurricane recovery — created a boom, Rust said. Many of the states now showing large job losses were, like Florida, states that showed large gains during those boom years.
"This is a housing correction for that expansionary period," she said. "Nevada, Arizona, California were in a similar housing situation with a lot of spending on second homes."
Now the job gains are in states like Texas, Kentucky, Kansas and Tennessee.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said Friday she has put together a "financial action team" charged with helping Floridians get their fair share of benefits from the recently approved federal housing legislation. The group is supposed to develop outreach efforts to educate Floridians about available benefits.
The Palm Coast-Flagler County area had Florida's highest unemployment rate in July at 10.6 percent. Sebastian-Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie, Punta Gorda and Cape Coral-Fort Myers all had rates above 8 percent.
Only Gainesville and Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-Destin came in with a rate below 5 percent. Gainesville and Orlando-Kissimmee were the only metro areas in the state with year-to-year job growth. The regions benefit because the brightest spots in Florida's job picture continue to be education, health services, government and leisure and hospitality.
Unlike the state and national figures, the local area numbers are not seasonally adjusted. Without adjustments, the state unemployment number would be 6.4 percent and the national 6 percent.
Helen Huntley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8230.