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  1. Business

Florida posts strong job growth in January as unemployment dips to 5 percent

ST. PETERSBURG — Gov. Rick Scott is coming off a dismal legislative session, rebuffed by lawmakers for his top priorities of tax cuts and jobs incentive funding. But during a brief stop in downtown St. Petersburg on Monday afternoon, Scott was steadfastly upbeat as he focused on his favorite topic: jobs.

And why not?

Economic numbers released Monday show Florida's job resurgence is still going strong, with 32,200 jobs added in January alone and unemployment dropping a notch from 5.1 percent to 5 percent.

"We added 36,000 (private-sector) jobs which, I think, is our biggest job growth in any month since I've been elected (in 2010)," Scott said, talking to members of the media at Kobie Marketing's St. Petersburg headquarters. Scott's analysis excludes government, which fell by 3,800 jobs between December and January.

The two biggest knocks against Florida's economy have been that too many of the newly created jobs in this prolonged recovery have been low-paying and too many discouraged job-seekers who have given up looking are no longer counted as the lower unemployment rate has fallen.

Monday showed headway on both fronts:

• More jobs have been created in professional and business services over the past year (66,300 jobs) than any other category. The traditional low-paying sectors of tourism and retail are still growing, but so are construction, financial activities and manufacturing. Combined, those latter three (and traditionally higher-paying) sectors added 57,000 jobs, or a little more than tourism and hospitality. Only information continues to lose jobs.

• The state's workforce grew by 40,000 in January while its 16-and-up population (excluding those in school or in prison) grew by 25,000. That could mean more sidelined, discouraged job-seekers have re-entered the workforce.

Tampa Bay's unemployment rate rose from 4.5 percent to 4.8 percent. Unlike federal and state figures, local jobless rates are not seasonally adjusted for swings in agriculture and tourism and education, so they tend to fluctuate more month to month.

For the year, the bay area is up 44,300 jobs, second only to Orlando among major Florida metros.

The backdrop for Scott's St. Petersburg visit was Kobie Marketing, a loyalty marketing and technology firm that said Monday it is adding 255 more jobs here in an expansion that began last year. Eighty-five of the new jobs are coming by year-end.

If Kobie creates all the pledged jobs by the end of 2017 at average wages topping $85,000, it would qualify for up to $1.785 million in state, county and local tax rebates.

Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial, said Florida has benefited from low gas prices luring tourists to come to the beaches and theme parks. And, because it has a smaller manufacturing base, Florida has been shielded from being hit by lower export prices and weakened overseas demand.

End result: Florida added more jobs in January than any other state, squeaking ahead of No. 2 Texas by a mere 800 jobs, according to Labor Department data.

Since the economic recovery began more than six years ago, "the feeling was: 'These are all low-paying jobs' " being created, Brown said. "Well, no. You look at professional and business services. Those are better-paying jobs."

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

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