Tampa Bay is creating jobs again, but not enough to stem rising unemployment.
The region added 7,200 jobs between October and November and is up 1,500 net jobs from a year ago, only a slight boost but still the first year-over-year increase since June 2007.
The problem: Competition for jobs is tougher because a flood of new job hunters either entered for the first time or re-entered the labor market after sitting on the sidelines. As a result, the region's unemployment rate worsened considerably to 12.6 percent, up from 11.9 percent in October.
That represents more than 165,000 jobless, up 10,000 from a month ago.
It was the same story statewide — anemic job growth that's not enough to meet growing demand. In fact, unemployment rose in 65 of Florida's 67 counties. Typically, regional unemployment decreases in November. State officials cited the rise in new job seekers as the main reason.
Florida's unemployment rate inched to a seven-month high of 12 percent, up from 11.9 percent in October. The new rate, approaching the 12.3 percent record set earlier this year, reflects more than 1.1 million jobless out of a labor force of 9.2 million.
Job creation statewide was flat for the month, with an increase of just 300 jobs, or about 0.1 percent, according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, which oversees unemployment issues.
"We've now had five months of positive job growth (after) losing jobs for three years," AWI chief economist Rebecca Rust said. "So even though it's still relatively flat, it's going in the right direction."
Unlike state figures, local and regional unemployment data are not seasonally adjusted and tend to fluctuate more. Indeed, the Tampa Bay area's job total was helped by the seasonal hiring of holiday workers and a rise in leisure and hospitality jobs.
Florida's job uptick has spread beyond health care and government in recent months to include industries such as hospitality, professional and business services and trade, transportation and utilities. Ambulatory health care, membership associations, computer systems design and general merchandise stores have all increased hiring.
As more jobs gradually appear, a shift in hiring may be underway, at least according to Phil Petrillo of MRINetwork's Management Recruiters of St. Petersburg, who oversees a team of 10 recruiters hired to fill management level jobs in the $60,000-per year to $200,000-per year range.
A year ago, Petrillo said, employers who had found an acceptable candidate could hold that person at bay as they searched for an even better fit with more suitable skills. Now, if they wait to make an offer, they may lose candidates to other companies.
"After they've been burned a couple times, they're starting to get that sense of urgency back," he said. "It seems they have to lose out on a few good people before they wake up."
Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said there are still too many uncertainties to predict anything but a ragged recovery. Under the best scenario, the national economy may grow up to 3.5 percent next year "but we'd much rather see 5 or 6 percent growth for a couple years to really push that unemployment rate down."
Florida continues to lag much of the country, with the national unemployment rate at 9.8 percent. The 12 percent unemployment rate does not capture hundreds of thousands more workers who are discouraged from looking for a job or working part-time because they can't find full-time employment. Adding them would bump up the state's unemployment rate to 20 percent.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith views the return of discouraged workers as modest so far. After they return en masse competing for jobs, he said, it's possible Florida's unemployment will peak above the 12.3 percent record set in March before beginning a gradual retreat. "I still think 2011 will be the start of the labor market recovery," Snaith added, "but don't look for it to be robust."
A group of state economists has projected unemployment gradually dropping to 11 percent by the end of 2011 and not falling to a more comfortable level below 6 percent until 2019.
Nearly half of the jobless have been out of work more than 26 weeks, exhausting their regular state unemployment benefits, and are relying on a renewal of the federal extended benefits program to continue receiving aid. Congress this week passed legislation to re-start extended benefits, which could provide up to 73 weeks of additional coverage.