Flagler County’s unemployment in February fell sharply again, to 5.3 percent from 6 percent the previous month, even as the labor force in the county surged for the second month in a row, to just under 46,000–a record–as did the number of residents holding jobs.
In February, 830 more Flagler County residents held jobs than in January, when 318 more people had gained jobs over the previous month. So in the first two months of the year, a net 1,148 Flagler County residents gained jobs.
It is notable that hardly any of these jobs–and only a fraction of the more than 16,000 new jobs for Flagler residents since the end of 2010–can be attributed to county government’s economic development department, which costs taxpayers roughly $450,000 a year. Rather, the jobs are a result of the economy’s recovery and natural growth.
Employment for residents in the county stands at 43,500, an improvement of 1,500 compared with the same time last year. That’s not jobs in Flagler County, but local residents holding jobs in Flagler and surrounding counties. The jobs are not necessarily full-time: a worker need only register an hour’s work during a pay period to count as an employed person.
Still, the trend points toward a strong local job market. It is rare for both the labor force to increase sharply and the unemployment rate to fall sharply in the same period. It means that the employment climate is strong enough to absorb new entrants in the workforce and reduce the unemployment rolls at the same time. In January, the labor force in Flagler saw one of its largest month-over-month increases in recent years, increasing by 600. In February, the labor force grew again by almost the same number–545. In effect, the labor force has grown by 1,500 over the year, paralleling the number of people holding jobs, which means that those who choose to move to the county have been able to find work. That will tend to continue encouraging people to move to Flagler.
In Florida, the unemployment rate remained stuck at 5 percent, where it has essentially been for more than a year, fluctuating by a decimal point or two, and seasonally adjusted employment actually fell by 5,000 jobs in the state.
Gov. Scott ignored the drop, focusing instead on the 53,800 private-sector jobs created in the first two months of the year, even though people holding jobs don’t make the distinction between private and public sector employment–and public-sector employment is often a large chunk of the workforce in smaller counties. In February, there were a total of 6,400 fewer government jobs, with the loss concentrated in local government workforces (a loss of 4,200 jobs).
Overall, however, the state’s economy has not been faring poorly: as in Flagler County, the state’s labor force has been increasing steadily–“climbing more than four times faster than the nation’s,” according to Cissy Proctor, who heads the state’s labor department–and the state’s economy has at least been absorbing the newcomers, and then some: Florida’s labor force grew by 300,000 over the year.
Looking at the numbers more closely, February saw significant job gains in goods production (3,900), construction and manufacturing (3,900), wholesale trade (3,700), and leisure and hospitality (7,500). There were losses in service production (8,900), retail trade (1,900), transportation, warehousing and utilities (1,900), professional and business services (7,500), education and health services (2,600), and government.
As always, Hendry County remains at the top of the table as the county burdened by the highest unemployment rate, at 7.2 percent, followed by Sumter, Citrus and Hardee. Putnam County is in sixth place from that top, with a 6.1 percent unemployment rate. Flagler is in 15th place from the top. The better performing counties are Monroe (3.1 percent), St. Johns and Wakula, also under 4 percent.