Finally comes a September that Florida's tortured jobs market might want to remember.
Florida's economic engine kicked back into gear last month, creating a net 23,300 jobs — more than any other state. The Tampa Bay area led the way among Florida metros for the second month in a row, creating 24,500 jobs over the past year and 5,100 jobs in September alone.
Meanwhile, the state's unemployment rate fell to a two-year low of 10.6 percent after holding steady at 10.7 percent the past three months.
To be sure, the labor market is still in dire condition with 977,000 out-of-work Floridians and hundreds of thousands more who have either temporarily given up looking or can only find part-time work. Many discouraged job seekers are expected to re-enter the labor pool at some point, driving unemployment higher.
A consensus of economists statewide has predicted unemployment will rise to 11 percent by year-end. Still, the addition of 23,000-plus jobs in a single month was more than welcome.
"In the best of times, that would be considered low, but in the (economic environment) we've been through, it's the best we've seen in many years," said Rebecca Rust, chief economist with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees unemployment and job creation efforts.
Locally, the performance was even stronger. The bay area's unemployment rate fell from 11 percent to 10.8 percent last month, with every area county improving. Unlike state figures, local numbers are not seasonally adjusted and tend to fluctuate more widely month to month.
Gov. Rick Scott held an impromptu media teleconference to release the numbers from Brazil, where he had just arrived on a trade mission.
Even more encouraging than the unemployment dip, Scott said, was the jobs growth. About 110,300 private sector jobs have been created since January, a net gain of 92,400 jobs after factoring in public sector cutbacks.
For the first time in 3 1/2 years, Florida's job growth rate is outpacing the nation's. Florida's growth rate over the past year is 1.3 percent, compared to the country's 1.1 percent.
"We're bucking the national trend," Scott said, attributing the uptick partly to legislative actions to streamline business regulations. "Florida is trending in the right direction … but there's a lot of work left to do." He did not take any media questions after his brief comments.
Not everyone was beaming over the latest jobs snapshot, however.
"I guess it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but color me unimpressed," said Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial. Among his reasons for tempered enthusiasm:
• Half of Florida's drop in its unemployment rate since January is because fewer people are actively seeking work. About 62,000 Floridians have dropped out of the labor market so far this year. Some left the state or retired, but some are sitting on the sidelines waiting for market conditions to improve before they look for work again.
• Though employment is up, Florida's population has risen by 93,000 this year. So the state is not adding enough jobs to aggressively cut into long-term unemployment.
• Most of the growth came in health care, driven by a rising population, and leisure and hospitality, partly reflecting a rebound from last year's oil spill devastation.
"This suggests we're kind of just running in place," Brown said.
Nationally, unemployment fell in 25 states in September, rose in 14 and stayed the same in one. That's a reversal of August when 26 states posted higher jobless rates.
Florida trumped No. 2 Texas, which added 15,400 jobs, to take the top spot as job creator.
Leisure and hospitality continued to dominate, accounting for 58,500 jobs added across the state year over year.
On the flip side, government is the biggest job loser, with 14,000 jobs cut this past year. Local government cutbacks accounted for the lion's share: some 8,500 jobs. The total number of government jobs throughout Florida has now fallen to its lowest level in nearly six years.
Since January, the government sector is down 17,900 jobs.
Gov. Scott highlighted the growing disparity between private job creation and government job destruction as evidence his government-shrinking plan is working. "I will continue to prioritize our efforts to streamline regulations, provide tax relief, and work with the Legislature and our other state leaders to do what it takes to create the jobs needed to get Floridians back to work," he said in a statement.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8242.