Job creators throughout Florida deserve an extra eggnog toast this season.
After an up-and-down year, Florida posted back-to-back months of strong job creation, bringing more sidelined workers back into the economy with every job category growing, even government.
In November, the state's unemployment rate tumbled below 6 percent for the first time in six-and-a-half years, reaching 5.8 percent. During the month, it added a sizable 41,900 jobs, second-best in the country, trailing only California.
Compared to a year ago, Florida is up by 229,900 jobs, a 3 percent boost.
"We're going out with a bang," said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. "It's good momentum going into 2015. All the indicators are pointing in the right direction."
Perhaps the most encouraging sign is that the labor force is growing again. Early on in the recovery, unemployment was falling for the wrong reason: People were giving up looking for a job so they were no longer counted among the jobless.
The performance is even more impressive, Snaith said, because recent recalculations show Florida's economy contracted throughout 2011. So it trailed much of the country in kickstarting its recovery, yet quickly caught up.
Add up all the numbers, take out public sector jobs and Florida is up by 715,700 private-sector jobs since December 2010.
Gov. Rick Scott, who released the jobs update Friday, said that means he has met his much-cited campaign pledge during his first run for governor: "Four years ago, we unveiled an ambitious plan to create 700,000 new jobs in seven years, and today we met that goal three years early," he said.
However, Scott's job-creation pledge shifted through the years. Initially, he promised to create 700,000 private sector jobs "on top of what normal growth would be." Accounting for normal growth would make the target 1.7 million jobs over seven years.
Scott subsequently said his target was 700,000 jobs. Period.
Landmarks aside, economists said the trend lines are encouraging.
Even long-suffering Hendry County, the only Florida county stuck in double-digit unemployment, was back in the single digits.
Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, called Friday's report "real improvement" as it reflected broad-based job growth over the year.
The number of professional and business service jobs is up a fairly strong 3.6 percent since November 2013. Brown took that as an indication that small- and medium-sized firms are beginning to add workers, as credit is "gradually getting easier."
One caveat: The bulk of new jobs in November were in trade, transportation and utilities — a broad category that includes lower-paying retail jobs. The numbers are seasonally adjusted, but it might be an indication that retailers hired more holiday help than expected early in November to pull sales forward, especially because there were only four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.
"You're going to lose all those (seasonal retail) jobs in January, so you don't want to get too excited about it," Brown said.
A drop in gasoline prices has helped fuel consumer spending, partially offsetting stagnant wages. "Hopefully by the time we get to the second half of next year, we'll start to see an increase in wages, which has been the real drawback this past year," Brown said.
Mirroring Florida, Tampa Bay's jobless rate also improved to 5.8 percent.
Year-over-year, the region has added 12,900 jobs with the biggest gain (6,300 jobs) coming in trade, transportation and utilities. Professional and business services is up by 4,800 jobs in Tampa Bay, compared with November 2013.
Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected]om or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.