The unemployment rate in Miami-Dade County ticked up for the third straight month as crucial Latin American economies continue to struggle.
The local jobless rate hit 6.1 percent in December, up from 6 percent in November, according to a monthly report by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
But behind the numbers, the news wasn’t all bad. The number of people working actually grew by more than 6,000. The number of unemployed people also went up, but only by 1,500. More people entering the labor force is a good sign, indicating that businesses are hiring and job seekers are hitting the pavement to find work.
6.1 percent Unemployment rate in Miami-Dade in December
“I would argue that consumer spending is keeping the economy moving forward,” said Robert Cruz, chair of the School of Business at Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus.
Sales tax revenues for Miami-Dade and Broward have been strong, growing 6 percent and 4 percent respectively year-over-year in October, according to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Revenue.
In Broward, the unemployment rate dipped to 4.3 percent in December, down from 4.5 percent in November and 5 percent in Dec. 2014.
Cruz said volatile stock markets in the U.S. and China and rock-bottom oil prices could be “warning signs” for the wider economy but haven’t hurt the local labor market yet.
“There tends to be a lag,” he said.
The drop in oil prices has been a phenomenal bonus to U.S. consumers and that’s helped to offset the declines in spending by visitors from Latin America.
Manuel Lasaga, economist
Even so, economists in recent months have noticed a slowdown in growth in South Florida’s key industries including construction, tourism and professional services. Sputtering economies in Latin America are likely holding back local growth.
Miami-Dade created 16,300 new jobs year-over-year in December, the fifth most in Florida. The areas around Tampa (38,800 new jobs), Orlando (38,100), Fort Lauderdale (24,900) and Jacksonville (17,300) all created more. Latin American investors and businesses play a bigger role in Miami’s economy than anywhere else in Florida.
“The December numbers confirm that we’ve had a slight-to-moderate deceleration in employment and economic activity in the last few months of the year,” said Manuel Lasaga, president of economic consultancy StratInfo and a professor of finance at Florida International University.
And 2016 is projected to be another down year for Latin America and the Caribbean, raising worries about local contagion.
A report released Friday by the International Monetary Fund concluded that “growth [in Latin America] in 2016 is now expected to be negative for the second consecutive year — the first time since the debt crisis of 1982–83, which triggered the ‘lost decade’ for the region.”
South Florida slowdown
Miami’s construction, retail and tourism sectors have all slowed down in recent months as currency crises and a strong dollar take their toll on the purchasing power of Latin American visitors. Also suffering is the category of industries that includes lawyers, accountants, architects and other white collar workers.
But Lasaga added the numbers could have been worse.
“I think we are seeing stabilization because the December report isn’t that far off what we saw in November,” he said. “The drop in oil prices has been a phenomenal bonus to U.S. consumers and I think that’s helped to really offset the declines in spending by visitors from Latin America.”
Statewide, the economy continued to hold steady. Florida’s jobless rate dropped to 5 percent in December, down from 5.1 percent the previous month and 5.7 percent a year ago.
The unemployment rate measures the number of people who are looking for work but can’t find it. It does not count those who have given up on finding a job.
The national unemployment rate was 5 percent in December.
All rates except Broward’s are adjusted to account for seasonal changes in the workforce, making them reliable month-to-month indicators of the labor market’s health.