Palm Beach County unemployment falls to 3.6%

Palm Beach County’s labor market remained at full employment in December, although the region’s jobs picture also showed some signs of softness.

The county’s jobless rate fell to 3.6 percent in December, down from 3.8 percent in November, Florida’s labor department said Friday. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rose slightly to 3.7 percent but remained better than the national rate of 4.1 percent.

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Despite the rock-bottom jobless rate, Palm Beach County continued a trend of sluggish job growth. Over the past year, the county’s positions expanded by just 1.6 percent, compared to a statewide average of 2.6 percent.

In some ways, Palm Beach County’s labor market is a victim of its own success, said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services.

“With the tight labor market, that’s deterring some businesses from hiring,” Faucher said. “Businesses would like to hire, but they’re having a hard time finding workers.”

Palm Beach County’s labor market has improved dramatically from the double-digit unemployment rates of the Great Recession, and the once-moribund construction industry has come back strong.

Palm Beach County’s construction employment jumped 10.6 percent and added 3,800 positions over the past year, making it the county’s fastest-growing sector, according to CareerSource Palm Beach County, the nonprofit employment agency.

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“The fundamentals for homebuilding continue to look pretty good,” Faucher said.

Houses are under construction in the new city of Westlake and at Arden west of Lion Country Safari. The two projects mark a return to the large-scale homebuilding that fell dormant after the housing crash.

And construction workers have been building apartment complexes, Brightline’s railroad station in downtown West Palm Beach, The Bristol condo tower on Flagler Drive and new bridges between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach.

CareerSource reported 19,659 positions being advertised in December, down from 21,184 in November. December, the height of the holiday shopping frenzy, is typically a time of low unemployment.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott called 2017 “a great year of job creation.”

“Our work to cut taxes, reduce regulation and encourage economic growth has sent a message across the country that Florida is where job creators and families should go to succeed,” Scott said Friday in a statement.

Faucher agreed.

“Things are firing on all cylinders in Florida,” he said.

Among Florida’s 67 counties, unemployment rates ranged from a low of 2.8 percent in St. Johns County to a high of 6.5 percent in rural Hendry County.

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