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Florida unemployment rate stuck at 4.7 percent for fourth straight month

Florida's economic recovery appears to be in a holding pattern.

For the fourth straight month, the state's unemployment rate remained flat at 4.7 percent, according to the August jobs report released Friday.

The state is still adding a significant number of jobs — 24,500 in August alone — along a wide number of industries. But the job growth isn't enough to keep up with the state's surging population. U.S. Department of Labor data shows that Florida's labor force — the number of people who have a job or are looking for one — actually contracted last month.

Mekael Teshome, a PNC Financial economist who tracks Florida, isn't looking for significant improvement in the unemployment rate soon. "I don't expect it to fall too much further," he said Friday. "We may be near the bottom."

Both Teshome and Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, said the state's addition of 259,800 jobs over the past year has been impressive.

Yet, wages remain a concern, underscored by a sobering U.S. Census Bureau report this week that showed Tampa Bay, Orlando and Miami ranked 25th, 24th and 23rd in income among the top 25 U.S. metro areas.

"You've had really good jobs growth over the last few years," Brown said, "but still, most folks clearly feel like the recovery has passed them by."

Gov. Rick Scott, who announced the latest statistics during a visit to a Fort Myers marketing and production company, focused on growth in the private sector workforce — up 22,600 jobs — and noted that Florida continues to outperform national trends. Florida's annual job growth rate, now 3.4 percent, exceeds the current U.S. rate of 1.9 percent. The Sunshine State has outpaced the nation in that regard for 53 consecutive months.

However, Florida clearly does not have bragging rights over many individual states. As of July, there were 23 states with lower unemployment rates than Florida's and the state remains far removed from its pre-recession heyday when its jobless rate was just above 3 percent.

The industry gaining the most jobs compared to a year ago is professional and business services (+59,800 jobs), followed by education and health services (+47,900 jobs) and leisure and hospitality (+38,000 jobs).

Tampa Bay added 10,900 jobs over the month and, year-over-year, is second only to Orlando as the fastest-growing metro. The bay area's unemployment rate fell from 4.8 percent to 4.6 percent.

Related coverage: Is the Tampa Bay economy pointed toward a recession?

While a statewide jobless rate of 4.7 percent is in the range of what's historically been considered full employment, many consider that number to be deceptive. Economists have said a continued low labor force participation rate indicates there are many sidelined workers nationally and in Florida who aren't looking for work and therefore aren't counted among the jobless.

That phenomenon appears to continue in Florida: although Florida's population continues to grow, its labor force shrank by 13,000 last month. That discrepancy could be due to Baby Boomer retirements or discouraged job seekers.

Over the past year, the state's labor force has grown by 176,000 while its working-age population of 16-and-up residents who are not in institutions or active duty in the Armed Forces is up by 234,000.

Teshome said one of the downsides to Florida's surging population is that "it's more of an uphill climb to see its participation rate move up."

Overall, Teshome remained upbeat, pointing to data that showed some recent improvement in wages and an adjustment that shows Florida added more jobs in July than originally reported.

"It's just a very slow climb now," he said. "I don't think we're getting worse."

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

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