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Florida is jobs king again, but somber state shies away from touting it

Visitors enjoy Clearwater Beach last November. With Florida tourism surging, the state has added more jobs in leisure and hospitality than any other industry both in May and year-over-year. 
[DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

Published Jun. 18, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — The latest economic numbers pouring in Friday confirm it: Florida is back on top as the country's jobs king.

The state has added more than 55,000 jobs the past two months — including a chart-topping 24,500 in May, nearly three times more than No. 2, the state of Washington. The rate of job growth in Florida is third-best in the country — a rare distinction for a large state — with construction and even manufacturing jobs rising.

Meanwhile, unemployment dipped another notch last month to an eight-year low of 4.7 percent.

"This is an outstanding report, especially in light of the national jobs report" showing a slowdown in much of the country, University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said.

It's the kind of economic performance that state leaders typically would be touting. But Gov. Rick Scott, in keeping with the somber mood following Sunday's Orlando massacre, bypassed any public event and didn't even send out an electronic news release.

Scott, who has been in Orlando all week, was visiting the city of Orlando's Family Assistance Center on Friday morning at the time jobs numbers became available online from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Asked why no news release was distributed, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said: "Our focus is on helping the victims and their families affected by the Orlando terror attack."

Snaith, who works in Orlando, said he wasn't surprised that the state underplayed the jobs report. "Putting this in perspective is the right thing to do," he said, instead of "bragging about job growth in the wake of all the tragedy we've seen here."

Many of the nagging negatives of the prolonged economic recovery persist. Wage growth is restrained.

And Florida, like much of the country, continues to struggle with a high number of discouraged workers who are not looking for a job and are therefore excluded in calculating the unemployment rate. Many of them are expected to enter the workforce at some point, ratcheting up competition for jobs.

As with past months, the fastest-growing industry is one rooted in historically low-paying jobs: leisure and hospitality, which added 8,100 jobs over the month and 49,300 jobs for the year due to a big jump in hotel and restaurant positions.

Still, compared with most states, Florida is in an enviable position.

Because a smattering of states saw unemployment rise in May, and most were flat in job growth, the country netted a mere 38,000 new jobs over the month. More than 60 percent of them, it turns out, were in Florida.

Scott Brown, chief economist for Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, was encouraged by how broad-based the recovery has become with the state adding jobs in nearly every sector, including many higher-paying fields.

Since May 2015, Florida's once-decimated construction industry has added 29,400 jobs, nearly 7 percent growth and second only to California, according to Associated General Contractors of America. Manufacturing remains a relatively small slice of Florida's economic pie, but it's growing, up more than 3 percent over the year.

Tourism has been helped by still-low gas prices, while the housing recovery has taken root, driving foreclosures in some of the state's hardest-hit regions down to 10-year lows.

"It's been a long road back, but things are definitely getting better," Brown said. "This is a relatively well-balanced report. … I'll take it."

The only sector that's still losing jobs year over year is information.

The Tampa Bay area has added 46,100 jobs over the year, second only to Orlando among Florida metros. Based on private-sector jobs alone, Tampa Bay was the top metro.

The bay area's unemployment rate fell from 4.3 percent to 4.1 percent.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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