South Florida’s economy suffered its latest threat Friday with a national jobs report that raised fears of a second recession. But anxiety aside, the region’s recovery looks far better than it did a year ago.
Housing appears to have turned a corner, with depreciating real estate giving way to rising home values. After two years of modest job growth, unemployment rolls are shrinking. Lower gas prices have consumers feeling a bit more confident than they did a year ago, while foreign dollars continue to bolster trade and tourism.
The relatively strong numbers offer another reminder of just how different the economy of 2012 looks from the dark days of 2008 and 2009. The deep dive has made South Florida’s recovery more dramatic.
“The recession hit Miami-Dade much harder than it did the rest of the United States,’’ said IHS Global Insights economist Karl Kuykendall. “We were expecting the rebound to be stronger as well. So far, it has been.”
A year ago, The Miami Herald offered a mid-summer report card on the recovery, assigning grades to five key economic barometers. We based the grades on how conditions had changed from 12 months earlier. We’ve repeated the exercise this week, and the rebound received higher marks.
As the summer of 2011 began, South Florida’s job market earned a D+, thanks to growing unemployment rolls. Since then, unemployment has dropped from 10.7 percent to 8.7 percent, helping improve the grade to a B. Spending also moved up from a D to a B, thanks to continued gains in taxable sales, lower gas prices and higher consumer confidence.
The upgrade doesn’t reflect the relatively battered state of the South Florida economy: home prices at levels not seen since 2002, unemployment close to 30-year highs, and spending still about a year away from erasing the ground lost over the last six years.
But the improvements do show what’s at stake as South Florida residents and businesses ponder their next moves in an increasingly uncertain time.
“In January, we saw a little bit more activity,’’ said Victoria Villalba, president of the Victoria & Associates employment firm, which places temporary workers with employers. “But in April it just became quiet again. April, May and June have been scary quiet.”
Friday’s jobs report punctuated a three-month stretch that saw economists shift from optimism that the recovery would hit escape velocity in 2012 to fears that a double-dip recession was at least a possibility. The federal labor agency reported the economy created only 80,000 jobs in June, slightly less than what already-glum analysts had predicted. Unemployment remained stalled at 8.2 percent, compared to the 9.1 percent rate recorded in June 2011.
South Florida won’t receive its June jobs report until later in the month, but recent statistics show a significant slowdown. Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest local economy, saw its job growth cut nearly in half in May to just 15,000 new positions a month. In May, Broward suffered its first yearly job loss since September 2010. The last time Broward shifted from positive to negative hiring was December 2007 — the first month of the U.S. recession that officially ended in June 2009.
Healthcare, tourism and retail remain the hiring stand-outs — evidence of South Florida’s popularity with retirees and vacationers. Even so, tourism scored one of the lowest grades in our 2012 report card. That’s largely because hotel rates and tourist arrivals surged in 2011; this year’s increases were strong but couldn’t keep up the rapid pace.