The ranks of the unemployed rose faster in the Tampa Bay region over the past year than in almost any other large metro area in the country, according to government data released Wednesday.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that among large metro areas, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ranked third nationally for growth in its unemployment rate. It swelled from 3.7 percent in February 2007 to 4.8 percent in February 2008.
That's still behind the national rate of 5.2, but higher than Florida's 4.5 percent rate in February.
The area's 1.1 percentage point increase put it behind only Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., and Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.
The rise, driven by declines in construction and the housing market, is just another sign of an economic downturn that may get worse before it gets better, said Chris Cate of Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation.
"It's not surprising that metro areas here as well as in California and Nevada are seeing large increases in unemployment, because each of those areas has seen great declines in the housing market," Cate said.
If there's a silver lining, it's in the diversity of the area's employers, said Ed Peachey, executive director for WorkNet Pinellas, which handles employment services in the county.
He pointed to financial services, manufacturing, health care, retail and hospitality.
"I think the fact that we have a strong base in all those areas will help us recover more quickly," Peachey said.
Plus, he pointed out, he wouldn't really call a 4.8 percent unemployment rate "high."
"Our unemployment rate was very, very low, so there was a lot of room to grow," he said.
Becky Bowers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8859.