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Florida, Palm Beach County unemployment rates continue to drop

By Emily Roach - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Job growth has picked up at the state and county level, pushing the Florida unemployment rate below the national average, and Palm Beach County’s rate below the statewide average.

That indicates that Palm Beach County’s economy is recovering faster than the state and nation, said Steve Craig, president and CEO of the area’s state-chartered jobs agency, Workforce Alliance. For the first years of the recovery, the county lagged. Last month the county created 1,200 jobs, and saw an increase of 9,300 over last March.

“I have no hesitance in saying Palm Beach County has turned around and is turning around,” said Peter Pignataro, the agency’s performance analysis manager.

Florida’s unemployment rate dropped 0.3 percentage points to 7.5 percent in March, the Department of Economic Opportunity reported Friday. That’s a seasonally adjusted number.

Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate fell 0.6 percentage points to 6.9 percent, a number not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, so it should be compared to the state unadjusted rate of 7 percent and U.S. unadjusted rate of 7.6 percent.

Martin County saw a 0.6 drop to 7 percent and St. Lucie fell 0.8 percentage points to 8.8 percent.

While Florida had a weak report in February, the first quarter of the year is proving overall to be strong with an average of 18,333 jobs created each month.

“Florida is batting two for three in the monthly jobs reports thus far in 2013, if we can keep this average up it will help speed the recovery in the state’s labor market,” University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said.

That would help job seekers like Herbert Coleman of Delray Beach, who has been looking for a job for more than a year.

The veteran, a former Navy seaman, was at the Hiring Our Heroes job fair this week. He said the job search has been discouraging because employers don’t call even when they act interested.

“I feel like eventually I’m going to have a job — soon,” he said. “It’s all about patience.”

Florida saw the greatest gain among the states in March with 32,700 jobs added. California was next in line with a 25,500 increase.

State Chief Economist Rebecca Rust also noted that Florida was ranked third among the 10 largest states in year-over-year job growth with 141,300 jobs created since last March. Texas led job growth with 329,500 jobs in the past year.

Six other states in March saw the same sharp drop in unemployment rates.

What’s important for Florida, said economist Mekael Teshome of the PNC Financial Group, is that a recovering housing market is pushing up employment across a broad array of industries. And job growth has accelerated since the third quarter of 2012.

“Given the national context where we’re seeing a slowdown in job growth and (in) many regions throughout the U.S., Florida’s really picked up,” he said. “The Florida economy is kicking into higher gear.”

State jobs were created in retail trade (+4,500), professional and business services (+7,300) and leisure and hospitality (+12,500), with only manufacturing (-3,600) showing significant losses.

Still, headwinds that are slowing the national recovery could affect Florida, such as federal budget cuts and European economic struggles, Pignataro said.

The report continues a mixed picture with a broad section of industries slowly creating jobs, but the extended stretch of high unemployment taking a toll on workers. The unemployment drop was aided, in part, by people leaving the labor force, because only those who have searched for jobs in the prior four weeks are counted as unemployed.

Robin Weigel of Loxahatchee, an Army master sergeant who served 28 years, couldn’t find a civilian job in 2010 when he left full-time active duty. Since December when he finished a computer tech program, Weigel has spent 20 to 30 hours a week looking for work.

“In my opinion, I’m not seeing any improvements,” he said.

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