Florida’s unemployment rate is no longer dropping like it once did, and neither is the rate in the wider Tampa Bay region.
This area now has an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, reflecting 87,957 people out of work, about 1,000 more than in January this year.
Monthly jobs numbers tend to be volatile, but the overall unemployment rate has dropped from 7.9 percent this time one year ago, and the overall workforce in the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater area grew by 29,600 from a year ago.
The state’s jobless rate in February was 6.2 percent, which is the same rate it was the two previous months.
The unemployment rate held steady even though the state gained an estimated 33,400 jobs in February. Only California and Texas gained more jobs in February.
Gov. Rick Scott stressed the job gains on Friday, saying the latest numbers continue to show that businesses are growing in the state. Scott maintains his policies since becoming governor in 2011 have helped the state’s economy recover, and at an event in Tampa, he harkened back to his own youth when his family struggled.
“I remember when my father lost his job,” Scott told local dignitaries who were gathered in Tampa at the Titan Metal Service Inc. facility for the Governor’s jobs announcement. Titan specializes in cutting steel for the construction industry. With significant state-funded investments in ports, roads and other infrastructure, he said “the state is now on a roll.”
At the same time, state economists have said a big reason for the unemployment rate decline is that people are leaving the labor force or had delayed their job search.
Nationally, unemployment rates fell in most states and two-thirds of the states reported job gains.
The Labor Department said unemployment rates dropped in 29 states, rose in 10 and was unchanged in the remaining 11. Meanwhile, hiring rose in 33 states and fell in 17.
The rate declines occurred even though unemployment rose nationwide, to 6.7 percent from 6.6 percent. That increase occurred partly because more Americans began looking for work, though most weren’t immediately hired. But the fact that they started looking suggests they were optimistic about their prospects.
Employers added 175,000 jobs nationwide, close to the average monthly gains of the past two years.
The Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater area gained 29,600 jobs over the last year, according to state statistics, and the local unemployment rate stands at 6.3 percent, down from 7.6 the same time a year before.
Titan was a politically apt location for the governor’s Friday event, as company owners Christopher Bush and Matthew Rossi moved the company into the port in 2008 and then rode the economic downturn. At one point during the downturn, Rossi said they had just four employees on the shop floor, and 11 in total. They struggled to make the mortgage payment.
Now things are starting to improve. On one side of the massive facility in Port Tampa Bay, Titan receives huge rolls of steel from mills around the world. A massive cutting machine then slices the steel into strips, ultimately used in HVAC conduits, school lockers and other structures. Trucks pick up the steel at the other end of the building for delivery around the country.
“Slowly we’ve seen things come back, mostly with commercial development, but also housing in south Florida,” Rossi said. Now they employ 24 people, including 11 on the shop floor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.