Just five months ago, during a brief stop at a metal fabrication plant at Port Tampa Bay, Gov. Rick Scott and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn both sang the praises of Tampa Bay for leading all Florida metros in job growth.
They better change their tune.
The latest jobs report out Friday shows Tampa Bay lost 7,000 jobs last month and is fourth in year-over-year job growth behind Miami, Orlando-Kissimmee and Fort Lauderdale. While Florida's unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.2 percent in July, Tampa Bay's jobless rate jumped from 6.3 percent to 6.8 percent.
Unlike state figures, metro numbers are not seasonally adjusted so it's not unusual if the number of total jobs declines in summer months when school is out of session.
Nevertheless, the continued drop in recent months, especially compared to other metros, fuels concern the local economic recovery has lost some vibrancy.
Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, ties Tampa Bay's fortunes to the housing slowdown. "The high end of the market is doing very well but mid-level and below is still stuck in the mud."
That's particularly true in markets like this one, which is prone to lower-paying jobs, meaning fewer people are able to afford buying a home.
According to the National Association of Realtors, the price of a single-family home in the bay area rose an anemic 1.3 percent this past quarter compared to a year ago — ranking it a disappointing 23rd among the 25 largest metros. By comparison, home prices were up 13 percent in Orlando and nearly 8 percent in Miami.
"Even though we're adding jobs, wages aren't really keeping pace with inflation so the typical worker may be falling behind," Brown said, adding it feeds into his "biggest fear all along — not that we'd fall into a recession, but we'd continue to have a sub-par recovery."
Florida's labor pool — a measure of those who either have a job or are looking for one — also fell last month, another indication any recovery will continue to be sluggish.
In Tampa Bay, the number of jobless stood at nearly 93,000, up from about 86,000 in June. That doesn't include discouraged job seekers who have temporarily given up looking for work or can only find part-time work.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith compared Tampa Bay's performance to being in a horse race. "Different metros at different points in this recovery take the lead and then fall back in the pack a little bit," he said. "I wouldn't say there is a fundamental flaw holding Tampa back. It's just the nature of recoveries that they're very rarely smooth and consistent."
That has certainly been the case so far in 2014. Florida's unemployment rate has risen and fallen slightly all year. So have the number of jobs created or lost — up by 34,000 jobs April; down in May; then up 37,400 jobs in June, the single strongest month in four years.
Figures released Friday show the state losing 1,600 jobs in July, but still up by 208,500 jobs from a year ago.
The drop-off was due largely to a big decline in local government jobs. Even when adjusted for the seasonal end of school, local government jobs dropped by 4,000 in one month. Brown, the Raymond James economist, said schools may have opted to keep on even less staffing than normal in the slow, summer months in order to cut costs.
Trade, transportation and utilities — a broad category that includes low-paying retail jobs — is growing the fastest statewide, up 43,200 jobs over the year. The rebounding construction industry has added 40,600 jobs from a year ago while leisure and hospitality is up 38,300 jobs.
Poorest performing industries are information, up only 600 jobs since July 2013, and all levels of government, up 400 jobs.
In a statement, the governor ignored the monthly decline in jobs.
Instead, Scott noted only that the state created 2,100 "private-sector" jobs in July and is now up 620,300 private jobs since December 2010. Historically, he has dismissed government jobs as irrelevant in Florida's recovery, preferring to focus on the private sector.
"Florida continues to see positive job growth highlighting our economic recovery," Scott said, "so let's keep working to make sure every Floridian who wants a job can get one."
Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.