Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Florida unemployment drops; job creation picks up

Florida's growth industry is once again, well, growth.

Figures released Friday show the state added 37,400 jobs in June, the single strongest month in four years, helping to push the state's unemployment rate down a notch to 6.2 percent.

One clear driver of that broad-based resurgence: Florida is once again a magnet for residents in other states and other countries. Florida's 16-and-up population has increased by 210,000 over the year, including 17,000 new Floridians in June alone.

Along with the moving vans chugging into Florida comes demand for more professional and business services, more retail, more housing.

So it's no surprise that construction is making a comeback, too.

In fact, construction, which was struck hard by the downturn, grew almost 12 percent over the year. That's a rate three times faster than any other industry's.

The addition of 41,700 construction jobs since last June lags only the increases for trade, transportation and utilities (up 52,500 jobs) and professional and business services (up 45,300).

Construction has even surpassed the booming tourism and hospitality sector as a job generator.

PNC economist Mekael Teshome said he doubts that Florida is headed toward another building bubble. He predicted the industry will continue to grow "at a solid pace" this year and next.

"The construction gains are real, and the recovery has legs," he said, "but what you have to keep in mind is we are still well below where we were pre-recession, and I don't think we'll get back to where we were in 2005 or 2006."

Which is a good thing, given that booms often lead to busts.

Construction peaked at 692,000 jobs in mid 2006 and then plummeted more than 50 percent to hit a low of 332,000 by mid 2011. As of June, the number had climbed back to 405,000, the most in five years.

Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said much of the new housing construction is on the upper-scale end, feeding on the phenomenon of the wealthy getting wealthier. "It's good to be in the top 1 percent," he said.

Wages for most Floridians, Brown said, are not only stagnant but continue to hover below the national average in most industries. Tech is one of the few areas with upward pressure on wages.

An abundance of lower-paying jobs and a glut of long-term jobless who have fallen out of the labor pool remain two of Florida's biggest economic millstones.

The state's labor force — the number of people who either have a job or are counted as looking for one — shrank by 8,000 last month, though it remains up 183,000 year-over-year.

To economists, a shrinking or sluggish labor pool, mixed with a rising population, indicates there are still many discouraged workers who are no longer actively looking for a job, so they are not included in unemployment statistics.

Last month's surge was a stark reversal from May, when Florida lost 17,900 jobs, more than any other state. But Teshome, who dismissed May as "statistical noise," preferred to look at the state's economic track over the longer term.

"Overall, we've been getting a series of encouraging data nationally, as well as locally," he said.

Nationwide, employers added 288,000 jobs in June, helping cut the national jobless rate to a near six-year low of 6.1 percent.

In Tampa Bay, the unemployment rate rose from 6.2 percent to 6.3 percent, and the metro area was down 10,900 jobs. Unlike state figures, local data are not seasonally adjusted, so they tend to fluctuate more, particularly at the end and the beginning of the school year.

Unlike early in the economic recovery — when only industries such as health care, tourism and retail were flashing "Help Wanted" signs — the bounce-back has become broad-based. Every industry, even long-suffering sectors such as information and manufacturing, is up by thousands of jobs year-over-year.

Government, an area where cost-cutting persisted for years, is up 1,900 jobs year-over-year and 500 jobs in June alone.

But Gov. Rick Scott, as in past months, discounted any gains or losses in the government sector.

Rather, he zeroed in on the monthly creation of 36,900 private-sector jobs. That's the single highest month of private sector job growth since the governor took office in December 2010.

"Florida continues to have great success in our state's economic recovery," said Scott, who was at a Bonita Springs engineering and manufacturing firm to release the report. "Let's keep working so that every person who wants a job can get one here in Florida."

Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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