A little after 10 this morning Gov. Rick Scott’s office issued a barrage of releases highlighting job gains over the past year across the state: 6,000 in Southwest Florida, 4,000 in the Pensacola area, 18,000 in the Jacksonville area, 37,000 in the Tampa area, 51,500 in the Orlando area, most in the state.
The figures seemed robust. But they masked two realities: first, the state’s 5 percent unemployment rate was the same in January as it was a year earlier, pointing to just enough job creation over the year to absorb natural growth in the working-age population. Second, while the national unemployment rate has either remained flat or declined (it fell in February to 4.7 percent), the trend in Florida and in Flagler County has been less encouraging: The state’s unemployment rate is the highest in a year, and in Flagler, the unemployment rate in January spiked back up to 6 percent, a rate last seen 15 months ago: it was 6 percent in October 2015, but was on the downward trend. The local unemployment rate has hovered in the mid-5 percent range all year, and was 5.4 percent in December.
It may not be as worrisome as it looks: one reason the unemployment rate spiked in Flagler is because the labor force also spiked by more than 600 workers, to 45,438, an unusual 1.3 percent month-over-month increase, and a 4 percent increase from a year ago. In other words, Flagler County saw an increase of 1,735 workers over the past year, which points to an influx of working-age people into the area. That suggests that people see the area as worth moving into.
The increase in unemployment over the past month is not small: the number of people on the unemployment roll grew by 290, to 2,727, a large month-over-month increase of 11 percent. The increase is not as large for the year: the number grew by 160. Still, January’s total number of unemployed in Flagler is closer to what it was in January 2015 (2,963), when the unemployment rate was 6.9 percent, the difference being that the local workforce has since grown by 2,650, and that the number of people holding jobs has also grown, from 39,822 two years ago to 42,711, an increase of nearly 3,000, or 7 percent.
The numbers the state’s labor department releases don;t differentiate between full-time or part-time work, and it only requires a worker to log in one hour in a pay period to be considered employed. The numbers also don;t reflect the quality of those jobs–wages, benefits and so on.
In Florida, total non-agricultural employment stood at 8.55 million, an increase of 3.4 percent over the year, with 53,300 jobs added in January, and 503,000 Floridians on the unemployment rolls. That number does not necessarily reflect all unemployed Floridians, but only those who are continuing to look for work within the framework of the state’s unemployment regulations, which require proof of job-seeking.
Statewide sectors that saw the most growth including mining, logging, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and administrative and waste services. Information technology, professional and technical services and federal government jobs saw declines.
Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate (3.5 percent), followed by St. Johns (4.3) and Wakulla (4.5). Hendry County, long the unfortunate leader with that distinction, had the highest unemployment rate in the state (8.1 percent), followed by Sumter (7.6 percent) and Citrus (7.5 percent).
A note from the state’s labor department: Every March, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity release January employment and unemployment estimates as well as revised historical data. Today’s report is the result of that annual process, which is known as “benchmarking.” Benchmark revisions are a standard part of the estimation process and take place at this time every year in each state nationwide. As a result of this annual benchmarking process, the release of January and February 2017 employment data is scheduled for March 13 and March 24, respectively.