Job growth was much stronger for the first months of the year than previously thought, the Labor Department reported Friday. News that the unemployment rate is 7.5 percent, a four-year low, sent the stock market to historic highs.
Last month’s gloom was premature, as federal job counters revised estimates and showed job growth averaged 196,000 monthly since the beginning of the year.
“The economy was never really as close to the edge as everybody feared it was,” said Mark Vitner, economist with Wells Fargo Economic Group.
Terrance Bryant of West Palm Beach attended a recent job fair at the Admirals Crossing Winn-Dixie in Jupiter and was positive despite having been out of work for nine months. He just resumed his job search.
“There’s more than enough opportunities,” the 21-year-old said. “You just have to weed it out.”
Standing in line for a hiring interview, Andy Nunziata of Jupiter had been looking for four months and felt differently.
“The job market is very hard,” he said. “I keep filling out applications, but nobody’s hiring.”
Economists see signs that could help.
February’s new jobs number was revised to 332,000, a rate not seen since the end of 2005, and March’s dismal 88,000 jobs was increased to 138,000. Last month saw a solid 165,000 new jobs, according to the preliminary numbers.
The unemployment rate edged down again to 7.5 percent and has taken off 0.4 percentage points this year. The news boosted the markets to record highs Friday morning, sending the Dow Jones above milestone 15,000 for the first time and the S&P 500 over 1,600.
The falling unemployment rate was not inflated by discouraged workers leaving the labor force, Rollins College economist Bill Seyfried wrote in his blog. The labor force had shrunk the past two months.
However, the participation rate — the percentage of the civilian population that is working or looking for work — remained the same. It is still at historic lows and economists warn the unemployment rate will likely rise once people regain confidence in the job market and start looking again.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said that the coming months will be decisive in reading the economy because job growth has slowed in midyear during the recovery. Bursts of job growth have occurred earlier each year with a 300,000 month in April of 2011, January of 2012 and February this year.
His outlook for Florida is better, as he expects the state economy to surpass the national pace of recovery this year. Florida hit 7.5 percent unemployment in March, a month earlier than the national rate, after years of lagging.
“I think a lot of things we need to see in Florida are happening,” he said.
The fly in the ointment is the type of jobs being created.
Many new hires are restaurant workers, home health aides and store clerks who are getting low wages in part-time positions. All job growth was in the services sectors.
“As a result, this job growth is not likely to create a lot of income growth, not that incomes have been growing much anyway,” Vitner said. “And that’s particularly true in Florida.”
The state depends on tourism and has seen steady growth in leisure and hospitality jobs as well as retail trade jobs for the past three years.
Michael Gellar was checking out the Winn-Dixie jobs, even though he is employed.
“I’m only part-time employed,” the 55-year-old Jupiter resident said. “I would prefer full time.”
While he thinks some industries are improving, Gellar said the job market is still tight in Palm Beach County with little difference in job openings from last year. A Winn-Dixie spokeswoman said the grocer wants to fill 60 positions across the county and will hold another job fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 16 at the store at Cresthaven Boulevard and Military Trail in West Palm Beach.
Nationwide, the leisure and hospitality sector added 43,000 jobs in April, and has added an average of 44,000 since the beginning of the year. Retail trade contributed an extra 23,300 jobs.
And many medical field jobs are low wage with 28,000 added in private education and health care.
Higher paying jobs like construction were down 6,000 and manufacturing was flat, while government shaved off another 11,000 jobs, the Labor Department report shows.
10,000 – March 29, 1999
11,000 – May 3, 1999
12,000 – October 19, 2006
13,000 – April 25, 2007
14,000 – July 19, 2007
15,000 – May 3, 2013