Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Business

Florida unemployment drops slightly on strong job creation

The jobs recovery Florida has been waiting for may finally have arrived.

Consider three reasons for hope gleaned from Friday's report released by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity:

• More jobs were created last month (34,000 jobs) than any month in the past three years.

• The labor force grew twice as fast last month as the state's 16-and-up population. To economists, that's a sign that sidelined, discouraged Floridians who had stopped looking for work are flowing back into the labor pool to compete for jobs.

• And the unemployment rate fell despite the return of more discouraged job seekers. April's slight drop to 6.2 percent matches January and February for a near six-year low.

In a statement, Gov. Rick Scott called the creation of more than 33,000 private-sector jobs "great news for Florida families."

"The state's private sector has created more than 600,000 jobs for Florida families since December 2010, and we are another step toward making sure every Floridian who wants a job can get one," Scott said.

Sean Snaith, an economist with the University of Central Florida, described Friday's news as a momentum builder.

"This was not just an outlier — a rose amongst thorns. It's starting to have the look of a trend of an accelerating jobs recovery," he said. "The more of these the better, but I'm encouraged by the first reports of the year."

Snaith contrasted Florida's growing labor force with the national picture. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped significantly in April to 6.3 percent — but that improvement came largely because 800,000 people left the labor force. In Florida, the labor pool increased by 32,000 in April.

"The rate of job growth is high enough in Florida that it has certainly uplifted many who were discouraged earlier to get out there and look for work," he said. "On the national level, we're not seeing that and it's troubling."

Not that Florida doesn't have some causes for concern. Its unemployment rate remains too high to signify a healthy economy. Moreover, sagging wages continue to be a drag on jobs both old and new.

Mekael Teshome, an economist with PNC Financial Services Group, singled out depressed wages as the Tampa Bay area's main weak spot. He's not looking for any improvement soon. "There are still a significant number of unemployed and underemployed people, so there's not a lot of pressure on wages," he said.

Local observers say there have been a few areas where job seekers are gaining more leverage. Among them: health care and information technology.

Kim Malatesta, Tampa branch manager for the Incepture staffing agency, said it's become much harder to fill health care positions. "We have to go outside the state to try to locate people for clients," she said. "It's a struggle because (clients) don't want to pay relocation costs."

Talking with others in the staffing industry, Maltesta said she's heard a similar story: Clients aren't willing to pay more because they're used to being in control. In other words, they're in denial that market conditions are shifting.

That's certainly the case, she said, in Tampa Bay.

The bay area's jobless rate in April fell from 6.5 percent to 5.9 percent. Unlike state figures, metro area numbers are not seasonally adjusted so the rate tends to fluctuate more, particularly during peak times for tourism, agriculture and education.

The region added a solid 4,500 jobs over the month. Year over year, Tampa Bay is up by about 30,900 jobs, trailing Orlando and Miami as the biggest job generator among 22 metro areas.

Mirroring the state report, the industry with the biggest gain over the year was professional and business services, up 9,100 jobs. Trade, transportation, and utilities came in second with 7,100 new jobs, and leisure and hospitality added 4,500 jobs.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at (813) 226-3434 or [email protected]

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