How are we doing? 5 numbers spotlight how Florida economy compares to other states

Published Oct. 22, 2015

Is Florida "keeping up with the Joneses?"

It's hard to judge how the Sunshine State economy is doing without peeking at how the neighbors are faring, in this case the country's other 49 states. Here are five numbers, gleaned from new U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics that indicate Florida's economy may be improving in some ways but trailing other states in other significant measures. And one key number below raises the question: Is Florida's job machine, long touted by the state's top elected officials, showing signs of running out of steam? Let's go to the numbers.

5.2 That's Florida's latest unemployment rate, which dropped in September to a seven-year low, down from 5.4 percent in August. That's good news, of course, but how good compared to other states? According to the BLS, 19 states reported higher jobless rates than Florida in September with West Virginia's the highest at 7.3 percent. But even more states (27) reported lower unemployment rates than Florida with North Dakota (whose entire workforce is smaller than Tampa Bay's) lowest at 2.8 percent. Texas, a bigger state in population than Florida and one Florida Gov. Rick Scott loves to compete against, enjoyed a sharply lower 4.2 percent jobless rate. And remember, the nation's unemployment rate of 5.1 percent is still lower than Florida's.

2,100 That's the puny number of jobs Florida added statewide in September, a figure so low it raises concern that Florida's bullish employment scene might be slowing. As the country's third most populated state, Florida typically ranked among the handful of states like California and Texas that added the most jobs each month. In September, the state leaders in adding jobs for the month were Texas (26,600 added) and New York (12,000). Even neighboring Georgia added more than four times as many jobs (9,100) as Florida. This is just a one-month snapshot and might not be a trend, but the job slowdown in Florida bears watching.

235,700 A strong showing by Florida, this is the number of jobs the state added in the past year. It is second in size only to California (444,300 added) and, to Gov. Scott's delight, slightly bigger than the Texas increase (224,800), which was no doubt limited by the past year's blow to the energy industry and sharply lower gasoline prices. Still, take note that Texas roared past Florida (see above) in the latest monthly job creation numbers.

1 Regionally, Florida's 5.2 percent jobless rate makes the state No. 1 in low unemployment. The closest any state in the Southeast gets to Florida's rate is South Carolina's 5.7 percent rate. The Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee are all in the high 5 percent range while Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are 6 percent or higher. You have to go as far north as Virginia (4.3 percent) or as far west as Texas (4.2 percent) to find lower unemployment.

5 That's how many significant industries in Florida lost jobs in September from August. Those sectors are, in order of magnitude, government (6,600), professional and business services (3,800), education and health services (2,300), manufacturing (1,500) and information (900). Note how many of these sectors rank among higher-paying industries. The biggest sector to add jobs in September was leisure and hospitality (7,200), which tends to offer lower-wage work. It continues the debilitating trend of Florida adding more low-wage jobs in place of high-wage opportunities.

Bottom line?

Focusing on Florida's declining unemployment rate and the sheer number of jobs created offer only a rose-colored glimpse of the state economy. The state is running in the middle of the 50-state pack in many ways.

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Contact Robert Trigaux at Follow @venturetampabay.