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Florida unemployment rate falls to 6 percent, but problems persist

Published Nov. 22, 2014

There's little debate that Florida's economy is improving.

Look no further than Friday's jobs report, which shows unemployment statewide falling to a six-year low of 6 percent, a sturdy 34,400 jobs added over the month, and more discouraged jobless finally re-entering the labor pool.

However — 51/2 years after the technical end of the Great Recession — there's also little debate that the state has a long way to go to receive a clean bill of health for its workforce of nearly 8 million.

Despite its rising population, Florida remains roughly 200,000 jobs shy of its pre-recession peak. Wages are stagnant, a problem exacerbated by too many people working reduced hours or underemployed in low-paying jobs that don't match their skills or education. An unprecedented glut of long-term unemployed hasn't disappeared.

"It hasn't been strong enough of a recovery to heal the labor market," said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.

"I think we're on the right track, but we're not going in the right lane. We're in the slow lane … and I don't see us getting out of this lane," he said.

Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said the slack in the labor market is what's keeping the Federal Reserve from hiking interest rates in a climate of higher corporate profits and record stock market prices.

Other than those working in high-demand categories like tech, most Floridians probably won't see a meaningful increase in their paychecks for at least a year, Brown predicted.

Like Snaith, he doesn't envision the recovery being interrupted, just plodding along. "As they say, this is not your father's recession; it's your grandfather's depression. So it's really going to take a long time."

The economic overhang is one reason many voters turned against the Obama administration, and by extension many Democrats, in the latest election, Brown said. "The nation has added 10.5 million jobs," he said, "but the problem is you're digging yourself out of a pretty gigantic hole."

Fighting psychological perception, he added, can be hard. "Typically, sentiment is going to lag the improvement in the overall economy. People have weaker perceptions (about the jobs situation) than is actually the case."

For those paying attention, October was a strong month indeed, with Florida trailing only California and Texas in job creation.

Over the past year, Florida added 206,800 jobs, a 2.7 percent increase, with all major industries except information growing larger.

Month-over-month, the biggest job generator was the lower-paying category of accommodation and food services (up 10,200 jobs), followed by construction (up 6,200 jobs) and retail trade (up 5,700 jobs).

As typical, the vast majority of jobs activity occurred in the private sector, but government also was up by 2,400 jobs from September.

"Today's announcement that Florida has added 32,000 private-sector jobs is great news as we continue our work to ensure that every Floridian who wants a job can get one," said Gov. Rick Scott, who went to Boca Raton with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera on Friday morning to release the numbers.

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Tampa Bay's jobless rate also improved to 6 percent, down from 6.2 percent in September, as the region added 7,500 jobs. The bay area continues to lag other major Florida metros in job creation, but the October jump helped catapult it to 19,800 jobs added year-over-year.

The national unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent in October.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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