Saturday, September 22, 2018
Business

Florida unemployment rises to 6.3 percent

Florida's jobs market took a spring swoon, but not enough to derail expectations of a continued recovery.

The unemployment rate in May rose slightly from 6.2 percent to 6.3 percent as the state lost a substantial 17,900 jobs, the steepest drop in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Year over year, though, Florida still has 218,800 more jobs, up 2.9 percent, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported Friday.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, saw its jobless rate jump from 5.9 percent to 6.2 percent as it lost 5,900 jobs.

A year ago, Tampa Bay was leading the state among metros in job creation. Now, with 22,700 jobs created year-over-year, it ranks fourth behind Orlando, Miami-Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Jacksonville, up 21,000 jobs since last May, is nipping at its heels.

Economists tracking Florida widely dismissed the May numbers as an off month that should not hamper the state's slow recovery.

Mekael Teshome, PNC Bank's Florida economist, dubbed the dip "statistical noise."

"In the overall fundamentals, Florida's economy is gaining momentum," Teshome said.

The news marks an abrupt reversal from April when the state created more jobs than any single month in the past three years. The addition of 34,000 jobs that month helped knock down the unemployment rate, offsetting a surge of discouraged job seekers who had returned to the labor pool.

"This really looks like a payback from the later Easter that boosted leisure and hospitality payrolls in April," said Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo.

University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith echoed that thought, noting that roughly half the job losses in May were tied to seasonal tourism jobs.

"Frozen, both the movie and the physical state of many in the northern U.S., boosted the number of tourists visiting Florida in the first four months of the year," Snaith said. "This caused a surge of hiring in the leisure and hospitality sector that has been partially reversed by the spring thaw, resulting in a loss of 10,500 jobs in the sector this May."

The decrease, he noted, came after a gain of 30,100 seasonal jobs in the first four months of the year.

Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said his concern is not that Florida won't keep creating jobs in the months ahead, but the quality of those positions.

"You're still not seeing a lot of wage growth and that's the fuel for consumer spending," he said. "The typical worker is still running as fast as they can and staying in the same spot."

Meanwhile, assets like stock market portfolios continue to climb. "It's a really good time to be in the top 10th of a percent," he said.

Because Florida is skewed toward adding lower-paying jobs in retail, leisure and home health care, it's dragging down what could be a much stronger economic picture, said Teshome of PNC. "It won't send us going backward, but it prevents us from leaping forward as fast as we could."

Shortly after the state posted the jobs news online, Gov. Rick Scott issued a news release that downplayed the drop in jobs and did not mention the increase in the unemployment rate in May.

Rather, he zeroed in on the long-term story.

"Long-term trends demonstrate that Florida's poised for success," Scott said. "Private sector job trends have been on the rise for over three years, our unemployment rate has declined or remained steady for 43 of the last 45 months, and for the fifth month in a row our labor force has grown. Florida's had an amazing turnaround, and we have to continue working every day to create jobs for families."

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

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