Florida's July jobless rate near a record low

With an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent for the month, Florida beats the national average of 5 percent.

Published August 20, 2005

Florida's jobless rate hit a near-record low last month, reaching its lowest point in almost five years and far outperforming national employment numbers.

The state's unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in July, a level last experienced in November 2000, when the dot-com boom and Florida vote recount were in full swing.

"We're at a point that a lot of people would consider full employment," said Warren May, spokesman for Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation. "Everyone who's looking for a job can find a job. Though of course if you're a nuclear physicist in Belle Glade, you might have issues."

July's performance was an improvement over the 4.7 percent unemployment rate posted for the state in July 2004. And it was considerably better than the nationwide unemployment figure of 5 percent last month. Florida's unemployment rate has remained about 1 percentage point below the national average since mid 2003.

May said the state has not registered an unemployment rate lower than July's 3.8 percent since 1990.

"We don't see any factors that could pose a threat to continued job growth," he said. "That depends, of course, on where oil prices go."

Florida has added 240,100 jobs over the past year, putting it ahead of the nation's 10 most populous states in job creation.

Within Florida, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach added 51,800 jobs, ahead of Orlando's 39,800.

The Tampa Bay area, where the unemployment rate in July matched the state's 3.8 percent, came in third by adding 34,700 jobs.

The housing boom and rebuilding from last year's hurricanes have been responsible for a substantial increase in construction-related work, accounting for 28,200 new jobs.

Retailing, tourism, education and health care posted double-digit increases in Florida jobs.

But the major driver is the professional and business service sector, which has added 61,200 jobs since July 2004. This category includes everything from accountants to managers to call center workers. The sector's biggest subcategory is employment services, agencies which fill temporary and permanent job slots.

As branch manager for Manpower Inc. in Largo, Tom Valeko matches workers to jobs in offices, manufacturing and customer service. Though he said there are some hard-to-find skills, particularly electronics assemblers, it remains an employers' market.

"We still have hundreds of people we'd like to place and can't," Valeko said, adding that his agency sees a steady stream of Midwesterners moving to Florida. "I think a whole lot of people are never reflected in the statistics."

The situation is different at Spherion, a staffing agency in Tampa that works with finance, accounting and information technology industries.

Brent Short, Spherion's managing director for the Eastern division, said, "We are seeing a shortage of staffers, especially among degree-level individuals. The people we're looking for aren't floating around on the street like they were a year ago."

Short said scarcity has not translated into higher wages.

"Salaries haven't gone through the roof like they did in the late 1990s," he said. "But they seem to have stabilized. And I'm seeing more and more six-figure jobs opening up in the Tampa Bay area. That may mean people are job hopping."

AWI's May said low unemployment rates typically trigger mobility in the labor force. If some workers have been staying put to weather a rough period, "once rates reach this point, they start jumping," he said.

July's low jobless rate seems to contradict fears that the new minimum wage, which went into effect May 1, would result in widespread layoffs. But May said the minimum wage population is such a small percentage of the state's 8.7-million workers, layoffs would not affect overall statistics.

"It's not that minimum wage workers didn't lose their jobs," May said. "But if they did, it's a great opportunity to get a new one."

Kris Hundley can be reached at hundley@sptimes.com or 727 892-2996.