Housing slump nips job growth

Construction layoffs hit Pasco and Hernando hard.

By James Thorner, Times Staff Writer
Published June 16, 2007

Layoffs in the housing construction industry are starting to gum up Florida's job creation engine.

In state employment figures released Friday, Florida gained 125, 900 jobs between May 2006 and May 2007. Unemployment stood steady at 3.4 percent vs. a national rate of 4.5 percent.

But signs of weakness appeared in month-to-month seasonally adjusted employment. From April to May, the state lost 4, 800 more jobs than it gained, and blames much of the decline on builders forced to downsize in the housing slump.

Tampa Bay area counties most dependent on shingle and stucco, places like Pasco and Hernando, have shown the biggest jumps in unemployment. Hernando's 4.6 percent, up from 4.1 percent a year ago, was the third-worst of Florida's 67 counties.

Kevin Robles, vice president of McCar Homes, notes that Tampa Bay area home builders have slashed production by about two-thirds in the past year. They've trimmed employees and subcontractors accordingly.

"We've been thinning out the herd. It's just a byproduct of the soft market," said Robles, who has laid off about 25 of 50 staffers. "Some builders have laid off as much as three-quarters of their staff."

The top jobs generator of the past year was professional and business services, fields like accounting, engineering and law. Statewide, employment shot up by 31, 500.

Next was hospitality and leisure, including hotels, restaurants and theme parks. That sector reported a gain of 29, 300 jobs.

Health care added another 29, 100 jobs.

The Florida jobs slowdown tracks the overall economy, which grew a meager 0.6 percent in the first three months of the year.

As for the cyclical housing sector, some idled workers are finding jobs in the commercial building boom, Robles said. But new malls and office parks can't absorb everyone.

"There's just some people who will have to change industries," Robles said. "They'll have to step back and punt."

Fast Facts:

More jobless
Year-to-year change in unemployment rates for Tampa Bay area counties (not seasonally adjusted):
Pinellas: May 2007, 3 percent; May 2006, 3.1 percent
Pasco: May 2007, 3.9 percent; May 2006, 3.5 percent
Hillsborough: May 2007, 3.1 percent; May 2006, 3 percent
Hernando: May 2007, 4.6 percent; May 2006, 4.1 percent
Citrus: May 2007, 3.7 percent; May 2006, 3.5 percent
Source: Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3313.