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Florida unemployment rate increases to 3.4 percent in January

Florida continued to outpace the nation in job growth in January, according to state figures released Monday, despite sluggish gains in new hires, particularly in construction.

The state's unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.4 percent from December's 3.3 percent, the first increase since October 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 4 percent in January.

Though Florida added just half of the job gains it usually averages month-over-month (8,300 jobs in January ), Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner pointed out that the state's year-over-year additions totaled 2.4 percent (209,500 jobs), which indicates steady growth.

"It's not all that worrisome if the number of jobs we're adding slows," Vitner said, "as long as we're continuing to add them broadly."

Professional and business services gained the most jobs during the past year (54,000), followed by education and health services (35,900) and trade, transportation and utilities (29,400). Construction, which usually competes for the No. 1 or No. 2 spot for most-added positions, was fourth (26,600). The sector's job-creating slowdown, Vitner said, is likely because of an increasingly tight labor market for construction.

Tampa Bay also saw notable employment growth, adding the third-highest number of jobs over the year (19,300) of any Florida metro, following Orlando at No. 1 (49,900) and Miami at No. 2 (30,000).

The bay area's unemployment rate jumped to 3.9 percent in January from December's 3.2 percent. Hillsborough County's jobless rate rose to 3.8 percent from 3.1 percent in December, Hernando County shot up to 5.2 percent from 4.2 percent, Pinellas County jumped to 3.7 percent from 3.1 percent and Pasco County increased to 4.3 percent from 3.6 percent.

One notable area on the report was Panama City. It was one of the hardest-hit areas in the Panhandle during Hurricane Michael in October. As a result, Panama City was the only metro area to lose jobs over the year in January (-800), and its unemployment rate climbed to 6.1 percent from 6 percent in December.

What remains to be seen is any effect the partial government shutdown, which ran from just before Christmas through much of January, had on Florida's economy. According to economists, any effect is not yet clear, but later numbers may provide clarification.

"The usual processes of collecting the data were interrupted by the shutdown," University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said. "I'm curious to see as the months go on if there hasn't been some error (accidentally) put into the data because of that disruption."

Contact Malena Carollo at or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.