Strong jobs report for Miami-Dade as unemployment dips to 7.5 percent

The employment picture in South Florida looks stronger than it has in nearly two years, suggesting a new phase for a fickle recovery.

Hiring data released Friday showed impressive gains for Miami-Dade County, with the unemployment rate dropping from 7.8 percent to 7.5 percent and employers adding more jobs than they have since the summer of 2012. Broward County continued to show a robust recovery, with unemployment down to 5 percent for the first time since the spring of 2008.

The December results released by the state’s labor agency followed a strong report for Miami-Dade in November, a sign of momentum on the hiring front after months of wobbly results.

“That is incredibly positive,” Karl Kuykendall, an economist at IHS Global Insights who follows Florida, said of the report. “The big thing here is the labor force grew in December.”

South Florida’s economy has turned a corner before, only to slip back into troubling territory. The first half of 2012 regularly saw yearly job gains of at least 20,000 each month, but the growth slowed until it reached an average of 8,000 new positions through the fall of 2013. Friday’s trouble on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones index plunging more than 300 points and investor worry rising, offered a reminder that the economy remains vulnerable and volatile.

But the broad gains outlined in Miami-Dade’s year-end employment report mesh with forecasts calling for stronger hiring in 2014 as a recovering housing market and growing tax rolls help bolster construction and government hiring. Statewide, the numbers were strong enough that Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican running for reelection, traveled to AeroTurbine, a Miramar aviation company, to unveil the report personally.

“Once again we continue to distance ourselves from the national unemployment rate and create opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

Friday’s report offered a detailed look at the employment picture statewide and at the county level. The highlights included:

•  Florida: Statewide, the unemployment rate dropped from 6.4 percent to 6.2 percent. And while a shrinking labor market has been a concern in past reports, the December numbers showed an increase in both job seekers and job holders. Economists consider growth in both categories to be a positive sign for the hiring climate.

A separate survey of employers showed a gain of 14,100 payroll jobs since November. That’s slightly below the year’s average of 16,000 new jobs per month, but still better than November’s tally of 9,600 new jobs.

•  Broward: Payroll growth was up a solid 20,500 positions in 12 months, and the unemployment rate ticked down to 5 percent from 5.3 percent in November. (Broward’s unemployment rate may change when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics releases seasonally adjusted employment data for metropolitan areas. As one of the largest local economies in the country, Miami-Dade receives a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from BLS at the same time that the states do.)

•  Monroe: Statistically, the Florida Keys continues to be the hardest place in Florida to fill a job. Monroe County’s unemployment rate dipped from 3.8 percent to 3.5 percent in December, the lowest in Florida and hovering near the area that economists consider to be full employment.

•  Miami-Dade: The largest local economy in Florida, saw its unemployment rate drop to its lowest level since October 2008. The decline came despite an increase in job seekers from November. A separate survey showed employers added nearly 23,000 new payroll positions in the 12 months that ended in December. That’s the best year-over-year job growth since July 2012.

“One can clearly see an acceleration of job growth,” Robert Cruz, Miami-Dade’s official economist, wrote in an e-mail. He called December’s results “much better than expected.”

The most significant gains came in the categories of retail (up 10,900 jobs) and professional services and hospitality (both up 4,500 jobs). Most notable may be the gain in manufacturing, which showed an increase of about 2,000 jobs in both November and December. The positive numbers come after a bruising downturn for Miami-Dade’s goods-producing sector, which is off 30 percent since the start of 2007. But despite the loss of 36,000 payroll positions in six years, industry watchers see signs of a comeback.

Commercial broker Tom Dixon said that while he was preparing a study on warehouse space in Miami-Dade, he was surprised by how many cargo bays had been converted to manufacturing space. “I had assumed things were being stored in these warehouses,” Dixon said. “There’s a lot more manufacturing going on than you might perceive.”

Two employment sectors remain drags for Miami-Dade. Construction showed 1,800 fewer payroll positions than it did in December 2012, its fifth month of yearly losses since a brief string of gains in the summer. The hiring category that includes all local governments and school systems continued to show significant damage, down 5,100 positions in the past 12 months. For the local public sector, it was the 68th straight month of declines in a hiring slump that began in May 2008.

In all, about 150,000 people in Broward and Miami-Dade are listed as unemployed, about 40 percent less fewer than when the hiring market hit bottom in December 2010 but still more than double the unemployment count of 75,000 at the start of 2007.

Junette Escarment, 36, falls somewhere in the unemployed count. She recently lost her job at a call center, and now describes a daily ritual of planting herself at the North Miami Beach unemployment center and doing what she can to get her résumé noticed. On Friday, she faxed it to the office of her county commissioner, Jean Monestime.

“I’m about to be homeless,” said Escarment, who earned a criminology degree from Miami Dade College last year.

She’s been renting a room from a neighbor but said she expects to be out of cash soon if she can’t find a job. She has dismissed minimum-wage work as offering too little for her to survive, so she continues to look for better pay in the legal or teaching fields.

“Anything that meets my qualifications, I can’t get because I don’t speak Spanish. My second language is Creole,” she said. “The job market is not good at all. At all. At all.”