Job seekers in technical and business fields are feeling more optimistic, as Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.2 percent and job growth continued for the 11th straight month.
“Now you can actually go out and find jobs, move around,” said Tony Cato, a Boynton Beach resident and self-employed IT professional.
That wasn’t the case in 2009, when he lost his management job with a local nonprofit. “Even in (the IT) field, it was tough,” the 51-year-old said.
Economists and job recruiters say the employment picture is still mixed. People with the right skills in high-demand fields are seeing options. But many workers gave up on the job market during the prolonged economic downturn and still see no reason to resume looking.
“Not only did workers not return to the labor force (in April), the labor force participation rate declined slightly,” Rollins College economist Bill Seyfried said. “If the participation rate had remained constant over the last month, the unemployment rate would have been 7.3 percent.”
The state had stronger numbers in April than the nation, which ticked down to 7.5 percent unemployment on modest growth. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity figures released Friday showed 17,000 jobs were created in the state, mostly in construction, professional and business services and retail trade.
“Florida added jobs at a pretty robust pace, above the U.S. pace,” said economist Mekael Teshome of the PNC Financial Services Group. “It was one of the fastest growing states.”
Only California had a steeper drop, but it sits at 9 percent unemployment. Forty states reported drops in unemployment rate last month. Florida’s rate hasn’t been lower since September 2008.
Palm Beach County shaved 0.1 percentage points off in April, down to 6.8 percent unemployment; Martin was down 0.2 to 6.7 and St. Lucie County stalled at 8.9 percent unemployment. Those numbers are not seasonally adjusted, so should not be compared to the state’s unadjusted rate of 6.8 percent.
Statewide, the number of jobs created was adjusted down for February and March, but the average monthly job growth for the first quarter of the year was 15,433. March was stronger than the preliminary numbers for April, with 24,000 jobs created, but that was revised down substantially from the 32,700 first reported.
Cato, who was checking out job offerings at this week’s PC Professor Technical Institute’s career fair, said IT professionals who keep up their skills should be able to find a good job, though salaries have fallen since pre-recession years.
Business professionals have also weathered the recession better than many.
Monique Perez, a 29-year-old active reservist with the U.S. Coast Guard, just graduated with her master’s in accounting from Florida Atlantic University’s Accounting Scholars Program. She faced the job market in 2009, with a good work ethic but a lack of options.
“I saw other veterans leaving, and they were really settling for jobs,” she said. “That’s when I decided to use my benefits and invest in accounting.”
She’ll move from Delray Beach to New York City this fall to start her job with PricewaterhouseCoopers. She said graduates are competing with a large pool of job candidates and have to stand out to get a job.
All 23 spring graduates of FAU’s honors accounting program, who earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, already have jobs in their chosen field.
“Since 2009, all of our students have either left with jobs or gotten jobs within a few months of graduation,” Accounting School Director Kimberly Dunn said. “Most left with a job offer in hand.”
She attributes that to the honors program, both the comprehensive curriculum and the quality students. But accounting is also a dependable field through upturns and recessions.
“Even in economic downturns, accountants do pretty well because they consult with businesses to help them do well,” Dunn said.
In Palm Beach County, job growth compared to the prior year was strong in retail trade (2,200), professional and business services (2,000) and education and health services (2,100). However, construction showed a loss (-400).
“The region’s unemployment rate is the lowest in nearly five years and has been decreasing for nine consecutive months,” said Steve Craig, president and CEO of Workforce Alliance, Palm Beach County’s state-charted workforce development agency. “This very positive trend, along with significant gains in the key areas of tourism and housing, shows that our local economy is continuing to gain momentum.”
Unemployment rates dropped more sharply in the central and northern parts of the state where the heavy tourist season is summer time.
Teshome said the latest report was weaker for South Florida, but he sees the same housing rebound here as well as strong professional services job growth. So the figures should be positive over the long term, he said.
The country is in recovery mode, and that will benefit Florida, Teshome said. “Elsewhere when people see jobs and wealth restoration, they are more likely to come visit or even retire and move into the area.”
US 7.5 percent
Florida 7.2 percent
Palm Beach County 6.8 percent*
Not seasonally adjusted
April job growth in Florida
Retail trade 6,800
Real estate, rental and leasing 1,800
Professional and business services 4,200
Source: Department of Economic Opportunity