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Florida unemployment rate hits 7-year low with spurt in job creation

 
Published Nov. 21, 2015

SAFETY HARBOR — Florida's jobs market strongly rebounded last month after a lackluster September.

In fact, the surge in private-sector jobs marked the single best month Florida has seen in a decade, making it second only to perennial leader California in job creation during October.

The state's unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low of 5.1 percent as the state added a robust 35,200 jobs overall, according to figures released by the state Friday. That's down from 5.2 percent in September and 5.8 percent a year ago.

Each of the state's 24 major metro areas experienced job gains in October, while Tampa Bay's 37,100 additional jobs year-over-year was second-best in Florida behind Orlando. Tampa Bay's unemployment rate dropped from 5 percent to 4.8 percent.

"That means the entire I-4 corridor really is just the engine of job creation in this state and one of the true bright spots in our economy," Florida Department of Economic Opportunity executive director Jesse Panuccio said in announcing the figures during a visit to Mastercut Tool Corp. in Safety Harbor. "It's a great time to be living and working in Florida and the Tampa Bay region."

The statewide numbers included a vigorous hike in higher-paying professional and business service jobs, up 1.7 percent to 20,900 jobs over September and nearly 50,000 in a year. But the manufacturing sector showed no growth in October and construction jobs were reduced by 5,500 during the month.

Perhaps one of the most encouraging snippets in the report was a market increase in the size of Florida's labor pool.

Through much of 2015, Florida had been enduring a troubling trend: Its workforce has been shrinking even as its population has been surging. The population of 16-and-up residents has grown by 264,000 from a year ago, but the labor force has dwindled by 52,000.

At least some of that, economists say, comes from discouraged jobless no longer looking for work. They may no longer be counted in the ranks of the unemployed technically, but their absence is an economic millstone.

Last month brought a pleasant reversal. The 16-and-up population grew by 23,000 while the labor market grew an even stronger 46,000. That could signal more discouraged workers re-entering the labor market.

And workers, state figures show, are seeing higher wages, up 4.1 percent since last October.

October's numbers were much improved over September, when the state added a relatively paltry 2,100 jobs month to month.

"It's really a strong number of payroll jobs added last month, especially after the September numbers which were a little bit weak," said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. "To see this kind of blockbuster number just reaffirms the strong trends in place in Florida's labor market."

But Snaith cautioned he was a little worried about the possibility of a soft global economy eventually impacting Florida tourism. He said two nations that traditionally fuel tourism in Florida — Brazil and Canada — are sailing turbulent economic waters.

"My anxiety level is rising because of what we're seeing globally," Snaith said. "You have to wonder if it is going to show up in the Florida data at some point. . . . Sometimes you start to see little cracks in the ice. Hopefully, they don't become fissures."

Gov. Rick Scott, who discounts the ebb and flow in government jobs, focused on the spurt in private sector jobs.

"Today we are proud to announce that October was the highest month for job growth in ten years, with 36,600 private-sector jobs created in Florida," Scott said in a statement.

Panuccio's stage in announcing the jobs numbers was the Mastercut Tool Co., a company that makes high-performance rotary cutting tools, from drill bits used in manufacturing and even by dentists.

Company president Michael Shaluly founded the company in his garage 30 years ago and now employes up to 120 people.

Panuccio touted Scott's economic policy and focus on tax cuts for the improvement in the state's economy, noting the state has added just under 1 million private sector jobs since Scott became governor in 2011.

One darker note on the numbers was a net loss of 1,400 government jobs with only state jobs up by 100. Florida lost 800 federal and 700 local government jobs, figures show.

The Hillsborough County unemployment rate fell from 4.9 to 4.6 percent; Pinellas fell from 4.7 to 4.5 percent; Pasco from 5.6 to 5.4 percent; Hernando from 6.5 to 6.3 percent; and Citrus from 7.1 to 6.8 percent.

Times staff writer Jeff Harrington contributed to this report. Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com. Follow @Times_Levesque.

35,200 jobs created across Florida in October

37,100 jobs created in Tampa Bay since October 2014