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A lull in Miami-Dade’s hiring rebound

Unemployment ticked down in Miami-Dade last month, but for discouraging reasons. A declining number of job seekers managed to mask the impact of fewer people working, and of employers still holding back on the kind of hiring that would signal a new chapter in the recovery.

“We’ve seen some lulls,’’ said Manuel Lasaga, whose firm Strat Info analyzes the local economy for banks in the South Florida area. “It would be great if we could have a little more momentum.”

In May, Miami-Dade’s unemployment did drop to 9.3 percent from 9.7 percent in April. But the statistics behind the decline were negative: About 8,000 people left the workforce, and the number of people who described themselves as employed dropped by 3,000, too. The combination led to the lower unemployment rate, which basically measures the number of people looking for work.

Both Broward and Florida recorded stronger numbers in May, adding to the mixed-bag of labor data that has so far characterized South Florida’s recovery in 2013.

In Florida, the labor force continued to grow with employment, allowing the unemployment rate to dip to 7.1 percent for what are generally considered encouraging reasons. And in Broward, the unemployment rate inched up to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent in April, but that was thanks to more people looking for work — usually a positive trend, since it signals optimism toward hiring.

Even so, the numbers weren’t enough to mark a major change for an economy still struggling to break into full speed.

Jason Hernandez, 31, has been looking for jobs in the government and private sector for roughly four years. The Homestead resident was laid off from his library position at Miami Dade College in 2009, and said he’s been surprised at how hard it is to get employers interested in him for even entry-level positions.

He said minimum-wage retail jobs he sought sparked no interest from employers, while inquiries into better-paying positions closer to his field at least generated some call backs. Hernandez worries his age, experience and education have made him unattractive for employers wanting to hire hourly workers for low wages.

“My friends tell me if you can’t find a job doing what you like, take a job anywhere,” Hernandez said. “But it seems like it’s harder for me to get an interview for a part-time job than for even a full-time job.”

The May employment report issued Friday extended the trends of 2013: continued sluggishness in Miami-Dade and continued strength in Broward. Last month, Broward added almost 15,000 jobs, compared to just 6,000 new payroll slots in Miami-Dade — despite Miami-Dade having a workforce nearly 25 percent larger.

The biggest culprit in Miami-Dade’s sluggishness: a lack of new government jobs, with the local public sector accounting for one of every two jobs lost from the prior year.

If not for the drop in government employment, Miami-Dade would have added more than 11,000 new jobs in May — not stellar, but also not as rough as the final results.

“I don’t think it’s quite as bad as it looks,’’ Karl Kuykendall, an economist with Global Insights, said of the May jobs report for Miami-Dade. “The private sector really tells the story about how the overall economy is doing.”

With property taxes on the rise, Kuykendall predicts coming stability on government payrolls, despite ongoing cuts from the federal “sequester” program of reducing the national budget deficit. That will leave the private sector more in control of South Florida’s recovery, with the long-dormant housing and finance industries in a position to take the lead from tourism and retail, which created two-thirds of Miami-Dade’s new jobs in May.

Wholesale trade also was a significant source of growth in Miami-Dade, adding 3,000 jobs. Trade with Latin America helped drive South Florida’s recovery starting in 2010, butwith Brazil’s cooling economy and parts of Europe in recession, some analysts worry about harder gains to come from the region’s ports and warehouses.

“When the global economy slows, we slow,’’ said Tony Villamil, dean of the business school at St. Thomas University and a local economic consultant.