Unemployment rate falls in Miami-Dade

Hundreds of people attended a career session at the D.A. Dorsey Educational Center in Miami at the end of last year.
Hundreds of people attended a career session at the D.A. Dorsey Educational Center in Miami at the end of last year. el nuevo herald

The unemployment rate for Miami-Dade County dropped slightly to 6.1 percent in January, another sign of South Florida’s improving local economy, according to state numbers released Tuesday.

That marked the lowest local unemployment rate in nearly seven years.

December’s unemployment rate was 6.3 percent (it had initially been pegged at 6.7 percent but was revised downward in the most recent report).

“The labor market is continuing to improve and may be gaining even more strength as we head into 2015,” said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.

“We are seeing pan-sector job growth, both in Miami and Florida as a whole,” Snaith said.

The county has added 42,900 non-agricultural jobs since January 2014, tied with the Orlando area for the most in the state.

Year over year, Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate fell by 1.1 percentage points.

Jobless figures statewide remained unchanged from last month at 5.7 percent, but fell by .8 percentage points compared to last year. The national unemployment rate was also 5.7 percent, down .9 percentage points from last year.

The jobs report released in March by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is important because it revises monthly unemployment figures from the previous year, in addition to posting fresh numbers for January.

Because of the revisions, the picture for Miami-Dade’s December unemployment rate looks much rosier than it did at first.

An initial report released at the beginning of the year put the December rate at 6.7 percent, the first time local numbers had gone up in months. But with more complete data, government analysts decided that December’s rate had actually been 6.3 percent, the same as the previous month.

Meanwhile, January’s unemployment rate for Broward County was 5.4 percent, down from 6.1 percent the year before. Monroe County posted the lowest figure in the state at 4.1 percent, down from 4.4 percent last year.

Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate is considered a better monthly economic indicator because it is seasonally adjusted, unlike the rest of Florida’s counties. And the latest monthly trends have been positive.

“Hiring has really jump-started in the last 12 months, and we’ve seen that with our Florida clients,” said David Goldin, CEO of AmeriMerchant, a New York-based financing company that offers loans to small businesses.

Goldin said that during the early days of the recovery many companies had capital available but were afraid to spend it on hiring new employees until the economy found itself on surer footing.

“But because the stock market is strong and the dollar is strong, we’ve seen confidence grow as consumers spend more,” Goldin said. “It doesn’t mean the economy is amazing, but we’re definitely seeing a strong uptick from where it was.”

AmeriMerchant has about 200 clients in Florida, according to Goldin, many of them in the restaurant, retail and healthcare businesses.

The number of people looking for work who can’t find it — the official definition of unemployment — was about 80,800 in Miami-Dade in January, down more than 2,500 people from December.

The county’s seasonally adjusted labor force grew slightly to more than 1.33 million, but the drop in the number of the jobless was substantial enough to lower the unemployment rate.

“The labor force is up, we added new jobs to the payroll and unemployment is slightly down,” said Larry Williams, CEO of the Beacon Council, the county’s economic development arm. “Miami-Dade is definitely moving in the right direction and is remaining a leader in the state.”

During the recession, Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate peaked at 12 percent in late 2009.

Many of the gains since then have been in the industries that were hit hardest after the financial crisis: construction, tourism and the service industry.

In South Florida, the construction industry added new jobs at the fastest clip over the last year, growing by nearly 10 percent.

The sector that includes legal services, accountants, engineers and other highly educated professionals also saw steady growth (5.2 percent), as did the healthcare and education industries (4.5 percent) and the retail trade (4.0 percent).

Government was the only sector in South Florida that lost jobs year over year, dropping by .4 percentage points.

In an appearance Tuesday at the headquarters of a production company in Manatee County that relocated from Virginia in 2012, Gov. Rick Scott praised the state’s ability to create private-sector jobs.

“Florida’s exceptional economic turnaround makes it clear that we are enacting policies to help businesses grow and giving families opportunities to achieve their dreams in Florida,” Scott said, according to a news release from his office. “We will keep working to cut taxes and make Florida the global destination for jobs.”

Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said that a strong economy was one factor in the company’s decision to open five new stores in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties by this summer. Walmart has also created 500 new jobs in South Florida so far this year and plans to add 500 more in 2015, the majority of them full-time, she said.

The company recently announced improvements to its pay and benefits, including a minimum wage that will rise to $10 an hour for many employees next year. (The current statewide minimum is $8.05.)

“A growing economy is something that will only help our efforts to expand,” Henneberg said.