Thursday, June 21, 2018
Business

Florida's unemployment rate unchanged at 8.6 percent

Florida's economy may have sidestepped the spring slump, but it couldn't dodge the summer of stagnation.

The state's unemployment rate stayed stuck at 8.6 percent in June while its economy added 9,000 jobs, barely enough to keep up with population growth. The estimate of jobless Floridians was likewise unchanged at 795,000.

It was the first month in a winning streak going back to July 2011 that Florida's unemployment rate did not fall.

The Sunshine State isn't singing the summertime blues solo. Twenty-seven states recorded unemployment rate increases and 12 were unchanged. Unemployment fell in only 11 states and the District of Columbia.

"I think Florida is consistent with what we're seeing at the national level," said Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg. "As the numbers start to roll into June, it looks like things are a little more dicey."

In the Tampa Bay area, unemployment rose to 9 percent, up from 8.6 percent in May. Still, year over year, the bay area continues to lead Florida metros in job growth, adding 23,300 jobs since June 2011.

Unlike state figures, regional and county job figures are viewed as less reliable as they tend to fluctuate more month to month. They are not seasonally adjusted for the end of a school year or agricultural peaks and valleys.

Gov. Rick Scott presented the job creation numbers as a positive trend during a news conference at the Pasco Hernando Workforce Office in Zephyrhills.

Scott cited signs of economic improvement: rising home prices; a 25 percent increase in building permits over the year; sales tax collections up nearly 5 percent; and a new demographic report showing more people are expected to move to Florida.

"We know there are employers who are hiring today," Scott said. "Florida is headed in the right direction, but I know we have a lot to do."

Mekael Teshome, an economist with PNC Financial Services, said Florida is mirroring the national slump. But as housing inventories fall and home prices rise, Teshome didn't waiver from predictions that Florida will soon boast one of the strongest economies in the country.

"I see this as a hiccup," he said. "I don't see this as a recovery being derailed. The wrongs that got us into the recession are still being righted."

The problem plaguing the economy this summer, he said, is a "crisis in confidence." Companies hold off on hiring as they worry about the presidential election, European turmoil, the Asian slowdown and the end-of-the-year "fiscal cliff" that could trigger big tax increases in 2013.

Florida's June jobless rate is down substantially from the year-ago rate of 10.7 percent.

Since January alone, the rate has steadily fallen from 9.9 percent, helping Florida inch closer to the national rate, currently 8.2 percent.

However, a state report earlier this week bolstered concern that much of the improvement is overstated. Florida's unemployment rate would have stood at 9.5 percent in May if not for a huge drop in the labor force since January, according to an analysis by the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The report found that more than two-thirds of the drop in the unemployment rate so far this year is due to fewer people participating in the job market, not from jobs being created. Economists believe there are numerous jobless who have only temporarily stopped looking for work so they are no longer counted in unemployment surveys.

Florida's labor force is showing some life, adding 6,000 people last month, according to Friday's jobs report from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. However, the growth was barely enough to counter rising population, let alone make a dent into chronically high unemployment. Florida's population of 16-and-up, non-institutionalized civilians rose by 17,000 over the month.

With population growth "we should be adding at least 10,000 jobs a month in Florida just to maintain," said Brown, the Raymond James economist. "And obviously, we have a lot of ground to make up from the downturn."

Times staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected]

Florida U.S.

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