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Florida's jobless rate holds at 3.5 percent for March

Florida’s unemployment rate held from February at 3.5 percent. Pictured is a man at a job fair in 2017. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times (2017)]
Florida’s unemployment rate held from February at 3.5 percent. Pictured is a man at a job fair in 2017. [DIRK SHADD | Times (2017)]
Published Apr. 19, 2019

As the country nears the 10th anniversary of the current economic expansion, Florida's job market is tightening and its economic growth is slowing slightly. According to state figures released Friday, the Sunshine State's unemployment rate held at 3.5 percent in March, while the state added 11,500 jobs during the month.

If those job gains seem particularly low (the state added about 25,000 in February), don't panic just yet. According to Abbey Omodunbi, economist with PNC Bank, it's indicative of a tight labor market.

"A tight labor market means there's wage growth," Omodunbi said. "It means consumers have more capacity to spend, and that's what we've been seeing."

The state added 209,700 jobs in the last 12 months, up 2.4 percent. Professional and business services gained the most over that period, adding 50,500 positions (up 3.7 percent) followed by education and health services (40,000 jobs, up 3.1 percent) and leisure and hospitality (28,900 jobs, up 2.4 percent).

Information was the sole sector to lose jobs over the year — 700 jobs, down half a percent. The sector includes, among others, newspapers, nontraditional publishing and software, according to University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith.

"That sector is still in the process of dealing with the theft of content on the internet that has really transformed how traditional publishing sectors work," Snaith said. "There has to be some equilibrium at some point."

Tampa Bay's unemployment rate was 3.3 percent for the month, down from 3.5 percent in February. Hillsborough County's jobless rate fell to 3.2 percent from 3.3 percent, Hernando County's rate dropped to 4.3 percent from 4.6, Pinellas County's rate dipped to 3.1 percent from 3.3 and Pasco County's rate sunk to 3.6 percent from 3.8.

Nationally, the unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in March.

Between March 2018 and last month, Tampa Bay added the second-highest number of jobs of any Florida metro area — 29,600 positions, up 2.2 percent. The area was trailed by Miami at 27,100 jobs (up 2.3 percent). Orlando gained the most jobs over the year at 47,400 (up 2.3 percent).

Both Snaith and Omodunbi said that while the natural next question as growth slows is whether a recession is looming, neither expects one in the near future.

"Markets are still looking for the boogeyman around the corner," Snaith said."But recent data is suggesting that he's not in the closet in the near-term."

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

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