Friday, May 25, 2018
Business

Florida unemployment rate unchanged at 7.1 percent

Extending a stagnant summer for jobs, Florida's unemployment rate in July stayed stuck at 7.1 percent for the third straight month.

Tampa Bay's jobless rate was also unchanged from June's upwardly adjusted rate of 7.3 percent.

There were 665,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force just over 9.4 million, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported Friday morning.

A separate employer-based survey showed the state added 27,600 jobs month over month, with a jump in the trade, transportation and utilities industry leading the way.

As with previous months, however, many newly created jobs were clustered in lower-paying industries, with retail trade and service providers accounting for the bulk. An increase in food and beverage stores, food services and drinking places, building services, health care services, specialty trade contractors and real estate were the primary job gainers, according to the state's monthly report.

Year over year, only two industries are still net job losers: government (down 6,000 jobs) and manufacturing (down 2,100 jobs).

Tampa Bay remains the strongest-performing Florida metro area, up 41,900 jobs compared with a year ago. Much of those gains, however, came earlier this year. Between June and July, the bay area lost 700 jobs.

The tepid recovery, mirrored in the national numbers, shows Florida remains far shy of what would be considered a healthy economy with unemployment under 6 percent. Moreover, labor force participation rates remain low both in Florida and nationwide. That indicates a large number of jobless have at least temporarily given up looking for work and are therefore no longer counted in the labor pool.

One sign that the phenomenon is continuing: According to seasonally adjusted figures, Florida's labor force contracted by 15,000 people in July even though the state's population of potentially employable 16-and-up residents grew by 18,000.

SunTrust chief economist Gregory Miller blamed fear for holding back the economic recovery the past three months: fear of policy changes by the Federal Reserve pushing interest rates up. Fear of sequestration cuts. Fear of how Obamacare will affect employee costs.

"My take on the labor market overall is that the most recent monthly numbers shouldn't disturb anyone terribly," he said. "If they continue like this in the second half of the year, then we have a problem — but not right now."

Miller's forecast calls for a much stronger autumn, particularly in Florida, fueled by a construction rebound, more bank loans to small businesses and even a resurgence in manufacturing.

University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith likewise predicted Florida will add jobs heading into 2014 and beyond at a faster pace than the country as a whole.

"The growing number of retiring baby boomers will likely continue to increase the state's population and the recovery is also triggering more and more construction projects," Snaith said. "Both these factors will continue to fuel the economy."

Looking ahead, however, Raymond James Financial chief economist Scott Brown cautioned to keep expectations in check. Political squabbling in Washington, a rise in interest rates and problems in emerging markets like China and Brazil will all have a dampening effect, he said.

"It's a recovery, but it's nothing special," Brown said. "I don't see anything that is going to push job growth sharply higher."

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