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Jobs up, unemployment down in Miami-Dade, but performance lags rest of Florida

Job seekers line up at Job Flea, a job fair in downtown Miami, in 2016.
Job seekers line up at Job Flea, a job fair in downtown Miami, in 2016. cjuste@miamiherald.com

The newest snapshot of Miami-Dade’s employment picture confirms a trend that stretches back to last year: The number of jobs in the county is rising steadily, but that growth still lags behind that of other major metros in Florida and the state as a whole.

The county’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell slightly to 5.3 percent in March, down from 5.4 percent in February and 5.4 percent in March 2016, according to a report released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. But it remains stuck above that of most of the state and the nation.

By contrast, Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent, down from 5 percent in February and 4.9 percent in March 2016. The U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.5 percent, down from 4.7 percent in February and 5 percent in March 2016.

PNC Bank Florida analyst Mekael Teshome discusses the latest Florida jobs numbers.

That further drop in Florida’s unemployment rate is good news because it may portend faster growth in wage levels, said Mekael Teshome, Florida anaylst for PNC Bank.

Broward County’s unemployment rate, which is not adjusted seasonally, fell to 4 percent, down from 4.5 percent in February and 4.5 percent in March 2016.

Since the start of the economic recovery, Miami-Dade had led the state in job growth. But economic stagnation in Latin America, which drives a big chunk of the county’s economy, and a tourism drop blamed partly on the Zika crisis combined to produce a slowdown compared to the rest of Florida in 2016.

Economic expansion in Miami-Dade has also been hampered by population growth that lags the state, Teshome said.

“The international exposure is a very important part of this, but so is population growth” for Miami-Dade, Teshome said. “When you have slower population growth, it means you have a slower demand for goods and services.”

But the broad picture for the state, Teshome and other anaylsts said, is solid. Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, noted that the Florida labor market has been outpacing the national market for some time. He also noted that the continued drop in the state unemployment rate has come despite “strong growth” in the size of Florida’s labor force.

Whether that trend continues may well depend on economic policy decisions by the Trump administration, Snaith said in a statement.

In March, Florida created new non-agricultural jobs at a 3 percent clip, compared to 2 percent in Miami-Dade. The state’s largest metro areas all grew at faster rates, led by the Jacksonville region at 3.7 percent growth, Orlando at 3.6 percent and Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, both of which grew at 3.4 percent.

Job growth in South Florida was driven in March by gains in construction, education and healthcare, and the category of workers that includes lawyers, accountants, architects and advertisers.

But retail, hospitality and trade — industries dependent on tourists and the strength of foreign economies, particularly from struggling Latin America — all grew at slower rates. And the industry that includes real estate agents, bankers, securities brokers and insurance agents lost jobs.

While construction jobs are growing across the region, the luxury condo slowdown seems to be hurting the building industry specifically in Miami-Dade: That sector shed 700 jobs in March, even as both Broward and Palm Beach added new employment in construction.

But PNC’s Teshome said those drops could be a blip, especially in the construction area, since the number of projects under construction in Miami-Dade remains high. Some analysts have expected a drop in construction jobs as the boom now underway draws to a close, but Teshome said it’s probably too soon to see its effect.

“We’ll keep an eye on that,” he said, “but one month is not enough to make a whole lot of it.”

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