Government was in job creation mode a year ago, in hope that new public sector positions and federal stimulus jobs would lead Florida out of the Great Recession.
Now a dry-up in government jobs has emerged as one of the biggest drags on Florida regaining its employment footing.
The state shed 7,000 government jobs last month, a big reason the state lost a net 11,100 jobs. Most of the lost jobs were short-term U.S. census positions, but about 1,000 were in local government, a sector that faces further job cuts because of lower tax revenue.
Local governments are down a net 7,800 jobs statewide since last year.
"What we're seeing on a national level is significant cuts at the state and local government level (that are) actually contributing to our economic weakness," said Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg.
Brown noted the recession was originally dubbed a "mancession" because of the purge of jobs in male-oriented industries like construction and manufacturing.
"Now, women are catching up with government jobs being shed," he said.
The bottom line: Florida's unemployment rate rose in September to 11.9 percent, the third consecutive monthly increase. Florida continued to lose ground compared with most other states and grew more distant from the national unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.
In the Tampa Bay area, one of the hardest hit regions of the state, the unemployment situation eased somewhat, falling from a rate of 12.6 percent in August to 12.4 percent last month. All area counties saw rates drop. Unlike state and national figures, county and regional information is not seasonally adjusted to give a more accurate picture of the labor market.
Florida's unemployment peaked at a post World War II record of 12.3 percent in March, before gradually falling to as low as 11.4 percent in June, thanks in large part to part-time jobs created by the U.S. Census Bureau and the stimulus plan.
Rebecca Rust, chief economist with the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, which released the unemployment data, said the phase-out of census pollsters accounted for about 6,000 lost jobs in September.
Rust echoed Brown's assessment that loss of additional government jobs because of budget cutbacks will continue to be a concern "for a number of months."
The government pullback comes the same time that the private sector is adding jobs, albeit slowly and selectively. Among the encouraging signs:
• Online job postings in Florida, as measured by the Conference Board, totaled 234,618 last month, the fourth consecutive monthly gain. Since June 2009 — the official end of the recession according to the National Bureau of Economic Research — online job demand in Florida is up by more than 67,000 jobs.
• Eleven of Florida's 20 metro areas showed job gains compared with a year ago. (Tampa Bay was not among them.)
• Five of the 10 industry sectors in Florida have added jobs compared with a year ago. Health care, retail, hospitality and tourism, trade-transportation and tech jobs are among growing areas year over year. The financial services industry, construction and government are among the biggest job losers.
Fritz Eichelberger, a Tampa recruiter and consultant specializing in the tech industry, said demand for certain types of jobs has grown "white hot" since late August. "Some candidates are getting multiple job interviews, multiple job offers," he said.
The four areas of demand he's keyed on: technology; interactive marketing; technology sales; and health care compliance, the latter growing because of an initiative to convert to electronic medical records.
"Outside of those four key areas, I think it's still a world of pain, unfortunately," Eichelberger said.
Overall, Florida's labor market is up 27,200 jobs compared with a year ago, according to the Agency for Workforce Innovation. September marked the third consecutive month that the state's job count is higher from year-ago comparisons after shedding jobs for three straight years.
But with Florida more than halfway through spending its allotment of federal stimulus dollars, the hope was that the private sector would be hiring more aggressively by now.
Rust said 200,000 online job postings aren't enough to make a major improvement in Florida's labor market when 1.1 million are currently unemployed and several hundred thousand more have either given up looking for a job or are working part time until a full-time job opens up.
Indeed, climbing out of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression is expected to take a long time at this rate.
Given Florida is in its 18th straight month of double-digit unemployment, a slow crawl could mask the fact there is any improvement at all, said Doug Arms, senior vice president for staffing firm Ajilon in Tampa.
"We may see some numbers that show things are improving," Arms said, "but I don't think it's going to feel that way for five years."