Palm Beach County unemployment rate hits lowest level in a decade

Palm Beach County unemployment hit its lowest point in a decade in October, the state labor department said Friday.

Palm Beach County’s jobless rate was just 3.6 percent, down from 3.7 percent in September and 5 percent a year ago. The last time the region’s unemployment fell so low was early 2007.

“October’s hiring burst largely reflects a rebound from Hurricane Irma,” said Steve Craig, president and chief executive of CareerSource Palm Beach County, the nonprofit job-placement office.

Irma hit in early September and, by essentially shutting down the local economy for a week, the storm depressed job numbers for the month. Now, though, the region’s labor market seems to be back on track — and that means employers have a hard time recruiting workers.

“We are pulling out every stop to find people,” said Joan Greenberg, regional director for the Palm Beach County operations of staffing firm Manpower.

Greenberg has been scouring job fairs, posting on job sites and encouraging employers to offer more generous wages. Ricky Wade, the owner of 25 McDonald’s eateries in Palm Beach and Martin counties, said he already has embraced the advice about paying valued workers well.

“The average McDonald’s franchisee is paying well above the Florida minimum wage,” Wade said. “I have hourly people close to $15 an hour. If you are productive and you’re an achiever, you get paid.”

While wages overall have been stagnant, that might be changing. Palm Beach County’s once-moribund construction sector continued to gain momentum. Builders added 3,200 jobs from September to October.

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, the parking garage at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, Brightline’s railroad station, The Bristol condo tower in West Palm Beach and new bridges between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach.

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent in October, down from 3.8 percent in September. Nationally, unemployment is at 4.1 percent.

Florida no longer can claim the fastest pace of job growth among large states. Florida’s employment last month grew by 2.3 percent compared to October 2016, a rate that trailed several other states, including Nevada’s 2.8 percent and Texas’ 2.6 percent.

Palm Beach County’s job growth was less impressive. Its employment expanded by just 1.5 percent over the year, well behind Florida’s pace. Broward County’s job market grew by 3.1 percent and the Orlando metro area’s employment expanded 3 percent.

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