Palm Beach County’s jobs picture: Low unemployment, but weak job growth


Palm Beach County posted another month of low unemployment and weak job growth in July.

The county’s unemployment rate was 4 percent in July, up slightly from 3.9 percent in June but down from 4.4 percent a year earlier, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said Friday.

While that shows the region’s labor market at full employment, a troubling trend continues for Palm Beach County’s economy: Its job growth lags the rest of the state.

The pace of job growth in Palm Beach County was just 1.3 percent from July 2017 to July 2018. That ranked 21st of 24 metro areas in the state.

Palm Beach County’s pace of job growth isn’t terrible -- the 1.3 percent rate edged out New York state’s rate of 1.2 percent and Illinois’ 1.1 percent over the past year.

Even so, Palm Beach County added jobs at just half of Florida’s statewide rate of 2.6 percent. The Orlando area posted robust job growth over the past year. Employers there added more than 50,000 positions, and employment expanded by 4.3 percent.

Among other large metro areas, Jacksonville posted job growth of 3.2 percent, while Tampa’s jobs expanded at a 2.3 percent clip.

Hiring in some sectors has been strong. The Palm Beach County construction industry added 3,500 jobs over the past year, as did the leisure and hospitality sector. 

The financial industry added 1,500 jobs, and manufacturers expanded by 1,000 positions.

Several sectors are in decline. The catch-all category of education and health services shrank by 2,800 jobs, government lost 200 workers and the information sector dwindled by 100 jobs.

While the low unemployment rate seems to reflect a robust job market, wage growth remains a mystery.

Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, said economists have been trying to determine why paychecks aren’t rising more quickly.

“Wage growth is much slower than you’d expect given the unemployment rate,” Brown said.

One possible culprit, Brown said, is that labor unions have lost sway in recent decades, leaving workers with less bargaining power. Another drag on wages comes from employers preferences for signing bonuses and annual bonuses rather than permanent raises.

Related: Despite robust pay, jobs for mechanics and machinists go unfilled

The state labor report doesn’t include wage data. The U.S. Department of Labor said earlier this month that national wages climbed 2.7 percent from July 2017 to July 2018 -- an improving number but not one that reflects a go-go job market.

By another measure, Palm Beach County wage growth has been robust. The Labor Department said the region’s average pay jumped 4.5 percent from the fourth quarter of 2016 to the fourth quarter of 2017, outpacing the national number of 3.9 percent.

Among Florida counties, Hendry County -- the rural region just west of Palm Beach County -- had the state’s highest unemployment rate in July, at 8.7 percent.

The lowest rate was in St. Johns County and Okaloosa County, both tied at 3 percent.


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