Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to a historic low of 3.1 percent in November, according to state figures released Friday. That’s a feat the state has only achieved two times in the past 40 years, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said.
“Month after month, we’ve been seeing pretty good numbers,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James. “It’s pretty healthy.”
The state added 12,100 jobs over the month, up less than 1 percent from October.
Tampa Bay unemployment was 2.7 percent in November, down from 2.9 percent in October. Hillsborough County was 2.7 percent (down from 2.8 percent), Hernando County was 3.6 percent (down from 3.8 percent), Pinellas County was 2.6 percent (down from 2.7 percent) and Pasco County was 3.1 percent (down from 3.2 percent).
The low unemployment rates reflect the state’s ever-tightening job market, which is often favorable for job seekers. But according to Raymond James’ Brown, the benefits from such a tight labor market are not being felt universally.
“It’s great to be the 1 percent,” he said. “It’s still the people in the middle (class) who are running as fast as they can to stay where they are.”
Issues such as housing prices and health insurance costs, he said, continue to pose mobility and affordability issues for the poor and middle class. Much of the recent wage growth, both in Florida and nationally, is being distributed to those in vital positions within companies, Brown said. Support staff or those in less critical positions haven’t experienced the same wage growth.
Between November 2018 and the same month this year, Tampa Bay added the second-largest number of jobs among Florida’s metros (30,800), trailing Orlando (36,700).
During that period statewide, education and health services gained the most jobs (62,300, up nearly 5 percent), followed by leisure and hospitality (38,100, up about 3 percent) and professional and business services (33,600, up roughly 2.5 percent).
Information was the only sector to lose jobs over the year (4,700, down 3.3 percent).
One advantage Florida’s economy has over the national economy, Brown said, is the steady influx of people moving to the state.
“People keep moving down here, and that means we can still grow,” he said.
This, paired with the tight labor market, means many workers who might not have participated in the economy, are rejoining the labor force.
“Because there’s such a strong demand, you’re luring people who have been really marginally attached to the labor force back in,” Brown said.
Brown expects the same trends to continue through the early portion of 2020.