TAMPA — Florida led the nation in job growth last month by adding 44,600 jobs between September and October, with some of the strongest job growth in the formerly lifeless construction business.
Tampa Bay area also has fared well recently by adding 7,100 jobs last month and an estimated 39,800 jobs over the past year, figures from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show. That annual job growth in the Bay area led the state.
There is some debate about whether Florida is outperforming the rest of the nation or whether it simply fell farther than other states did during the recession and now has more room to climb back. For example, certain energy-rich states such as North Dakota fared well even throughout the recession and other states bounced back more quickly than Florida.
Still, Gov. Rick Scott hailed the undoubtedly positive economic numbers in a news release Friday.
“Florida’s unemployment rate is now below 7 percent at 6.7 percent in October 2013,” Scott said. “This is our eighth month below the national average. Over the last two months, the state has added more than 67,000 private sector jobs. This is great news for Florida families.”
Florida’s September-to-October job growth topped the nation, ahead of second-place finisher California, which added 39,800 jobs, new federal numbers show. Over a full year’s time, Florida has added 182,200 jobs, which is third in the nation behind Texas and California.
Some of those benefiting from the job growth are in industries such as architecture, which suffered massive job losses after the housing bust. In Tampa, the international architecture and engineering firm Stantec is slowly adding to its local staff of about 85 people, senior principal David Kemper said.
It scored a big win by landing the civil engineering contract for Amazon’s massive new distribution center in Ruskin. It’s still far below its peak staffing of 140 people in the mid-2000s, Kemper said, “But there’s definitely been an uptick in hiring.”
Among the fastest-growing job sectors in Florida are: heavy and civil engineering construction, which has boosted employment by 10.7 percent in the past year; the architectural, engineering and related category, which grew by 10.5 percent; and building material and garden supply stores, which boosted hiring by 9.8 percent, state figures show. None of those job figures for specific industries are adjusted for seasonal fluctuations in hiring.
The job gains in Florida have helped to push down the Sunshine State’s unemployment rate to 6.7 percent in October from 6.8 percent in September. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area’s jobless rate also fell last month to 6.4 percent from 6.7 percent. The overall U.S. unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in October.
Skeptics have pointed out that some of Florida’s unemployment improvement can be chalked up to a technicality.
When people get discouraged in their job hunt and stop looking for work, they drop out of the labor force and no longer are considered unemployed. That can make the unemployment rate look artificially good.
As recently as August, the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research estimated that these labor-force dropouts were responsible for 58.3 percent of the improvement in Florida’s unemployment rate between December 2011 and this past August.
Had the state’s labor force not shrunk, Florida’s unemployment rate in August would’ve been 8.4 percent, not the 7 percent the state reported in August.
Amy Baker, an economist for the state, said things have improved since August, though, and her office hasn’t calculated the impact of these labor force dropouts on the job market since then. So, it’s hard to know how much impact they’re having on the unemployment rate today.
While figures suggest Florida is leading the nation in job growth lately, Baker said it’s complicated when comparing one state to the next. That’s because states fared differently during the housing bust and the recession.
Florida, for example, started feeling the effects of the housing bust even before the recession started, she said.
Also, certain industries such as healthcare stayed strong in Florida even during the recession, while construction collapsed.
“You can have very strong growth rates in construction, and we are seeing very, very strong growth rates,” Baker said. “But we’re still not back to normal.”
Florida launched a new $63 million computer-based system for unemployment claims in October that struggled with glitches preventing some people from filing for or getting unemployment benefits. State officials have said the monthly unemployment rate is calculated through surveys, not from unemployment compensation claims.