Florida's unemployment rate inched up from 6.2 percent to 6.3 percent in March, ending a remarkable 42-month streak in which the rate has either dropped or stayed unchanged.
But the reversal of fortune revealed Friday may actually be a good sign, indicating more discouraged workers who had stopped looking for a jobs are finally jumping back into the labor pool. That drives up competition — and the unemployment rate — but it also points to an improving economy.
One indication that's happening: The state added 22,900 jobs over the month. Another: The labor force swelled by 59,000 between February and March, more than three times the growth in the state's 16-and-up population over the same time.
Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said Florida may be on the cusp of more discouraged workers re-entering the labor market as fewer employers are cutting jobs. But it's tough to base trends on a couple of months.
Mass layoffs have fallen off "but the real issue is the pace of hiring is still low" and the overhang of discouraged workers and part-timers unable to find full-time work is still high, Brown said. "We've come a long way, but we still have a very long way to go in job recovery."
Though it is faring better than the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, economists say Florida's jobless rate would have to fall well below 6 percent to signify a healthy economy. During prerecession boom times, Florida's unemployment rate dipped to a low of 3.3 percent for eight straight months.
Professional and business services led the way in job creation statewide in March, adding 48,000 jobs year over year, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported. Other industries gaining the most were: trade, transportation and utilities (up 47,500 jobs); leisure and hospitality (up 42,100 jobs); and the dramatically rebounding construction sector (up 41,000 jobs).
An 11.5 percent jump in construction workers meant Florida led the country both in percentage increase and number of new construction jobs over the year, trade group Associated General Contractors reported.
Even government, long the lone holdout in adding jobs, is up a net 300 jobs over the year.
The unemployment rate and jobs data don't always move in tandem since they are drawn from different surveys. The unemployment rate comes from a household survey while the estimate of jobs added or lost is drawn from employers.
Tampa Bay's jobless rate dropped from 6.6 percent to 6.5 percent, with Hillsborough and Pinellas counties remaining the strongest counties in the region, each with a 6.3 percent unemployment rate. Hernando, the hardest-hit local county, was unchanged at 8.5 percent.
The bay area created 8,700 jobs over the month, second to Miami-Fort Lauderdale among major Florida metros.
In recent months, Tampa Bay has relinquished its crown as the state's top job creator. Year-over-year, Tampa Bay has added 30,000 jobs, trailing Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Orlando-Kissimmee.
In several state and regional news releases, Gov. Rick Scott didn't address the unemployment rate's monthly rise but stressed job creation. Florida's 3 percent job growth rate over the past 12 months is the fastest clip since 2006, he noted. Florida has added 225,100 jobs since March 2013.
"Businesses in the state are continuing to create jobs," Scott said. "Our improving economy is evidence that our policies are working, and we will continue to work until every Floridian that wants a job can get a job."
Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or [email protected]