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Bay area jobs loss confirmed by state report

When Hillsborough County's Planning Commission released a gloomy report on the county's economic health a month ago, the critics said the diagnosis was wrong.

They said the report exaggerated the impact of the recession and played fast and loose with the numbers.

But numbers released Tuesday by the state Department of Labor and Employment Security seemed to support at least one aspect of the pessimistic report. They show Hillsborough lost nearly 15,000 jobs from the second quarter of 1990 to the same period last year, up from a loss of 9,000 jobs in the first-quarter comparison.

Pinellas County also fared poorly. Pinellas lost more than 13,000 jobs in the comparison of second-quarter numbers, up from a loss of 8,600 jobs in the first-quarter comparison.

North Suncoast counties didn't suffer as badly. Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties lost about 1.6 percent of their jobs, compared with a loss of 3.8 percent in Pinellas and 3.3 percent in Hillsborough.

The new job-loss number for Hillsborough "certainly is consistent with what we put out previously," said Jim Hosler, the Planning Commission's director of economic development and research and the author of last month's report. "The decline in growth that everybody has been predicting for four or five years has finally come."

James Bourey, an assistant county administrator and a critic of the report, said Tuesday that he hadn't seen the new state numbers. But he said he still felt Hosler's analysis was overly negative.

Bourey said the report "went out of its way to paint a very dire picture."

At Bourey's request, county staff members wrote a six-page response last week that challenged Hosler's report on virtually every point. The response said Hosler's report misled readers into believing the employment and wage numbers were for all of 1991 when they were actually based on first-quarter results.

The county response said Hosler's report did not mention that fourth-quarter building permits in 1991 were up 8 percent from the same period a year earlier.

"The underlying data is thin for the conclusions reached," the county response said. "The Planning Commission report does not present a balanced, objective analysis of the local economy because it ignores data that presents positive economic indicators."

Economists use several numbers to measure employment. The most up-to-date statistics come from state and national surveys of workers and employers. The latest statewide numbers, released last Friday, showed 8.7 percent of Florida workers were unemployed in January, the highest level since 1983.

But those surveys don't provide accurate data for individual counties, statisticians said. Economists must rely on Labor Department reports from all employers in the state that often are six months behind.

David Gray, a research economist at the Center for Economic and Management Research at the University of South Florida, said people should keep the job loss in perspective.

"If you look at those numbers, what (Hosler) was reporting was correct," Gray said. "But as far as gloom and doom, the Tampa Bay area has fared pretty well during this recession. We've fared much better than most other areas."


Average monthly employment

County 2nd Qtr '90 2nd Qtr '91+ Change

Citrus 22,372 21,780 -592

Hernando 20,532 20,052 -480

Hillsborough 441,512 426,954 -14,558

Pasco 61,733 61,128 -605

Pinellas 353,288 339,935 -13,353

+ Most recent data available

Source: Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security