South Florida adds 14,400 jobs as Miami-Dade unemployment drops in February

Miami-Dade and Broward counties contributed 14,400 new jobs to the state’s February total of 33,400 added positions, according to government data released Friday.

Job growth helped shrink Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate to 6.7 percent last month, down from a revised rate of 7 percent in January. That’s the lowest unemployment rate in Miami-Dade since July 2008, when the Great Recession was ramping up. Broward’s unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.4 percent in February (the January rate was revised to 5.4 percent from 5.3 percent).

The counties fell on opposite sides of the statewide unemployment rate, which was 6.2 percent in February, unchanged from January’s revised rate and down from 7.9 percent in February 2013, according to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity. Florida has added about 211,500 jobs since February of last year.

In South Florida, retail trade, transportation and federal government jobs were the only sectors to post net losses last month.

The leisure and hospitality sector led job growth as spring-break season kicked in to high gear in South Florida. Hotels, restaurants and bars added 2,000 positions in Miami-Dade and 1,700 in Broward last month. Healthcare, finance, construction, manufacturing and other industries all posted gains.

State and local governments boosted South Florida staff numbers in February, adding 1,300 jobs in Miami-Dade and 500 in Broward, although federal rolls were cut by 300 total jobs in the two counties. A combined 1,000 jobs went away in February at general retail stores in Miami-Dade and Broward.

At 9.52 million people, the state’s overall labor pool also grew last month. That increase helps explain why jobs went up but the statewide unemployment rate remained flat.

“When a recovery happens, one expectation is that unemployment will go up temporarily,” said Chris McCarty, director of University of Florida’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “The notion is, people who left the work force and for whatever reason stopped looking for a job, they’ll start to look again as they see others getting jobs.”

Monroe County reported the lowest unemployment rate in Florida last month, at 3.8 percent, while Hendry County’s 9.8 percent unemployment rate was the state’s highest.

The U.S. unemployment rate grew to 6.7 percent in February from 6.6 percent in January, putting Florida ahead of the national rate for seven straight months.

“This has been no small accomplishment,” Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist, noted in his Florida Economic Forecast released this month. “Looking forward, Florida will extend its lead over the national economy the next several years as we expect the Florida economy to continue to outpace the nation as a whole.”

Snaith, who leads the college’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, said he thinks the state’s unemployment rate will continue to decline, projecting it to reach 5.4 percent by the end of 2017. Construction jobs will fuel employment growth, he said, with new residential developments expected to show year-over-year gains through the next four years.

Gov. Rick Scott, visiting a metal-manufacturing plant in Port of Tampa on Friday, said February’s job growth in Florida was “the single biggest month for private-sector job creation since I’ve become governor,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s a great month.”

Statewide, the biggest gains last month came in business and professional services (7,100 jobs), construction (7,000), trade, transportation and utilities (6,000), education and health services (5,300) and leisure and hospitality (3,900).

Analysts stressed that it’s important for Florida to continue to create jobs in business and professional services as well as other well-paying industries.

“The ongoing question we face here in Florida is not just are people getting jobs, but what kind of jobs are they getting?” McCarty said.

He noted that the leisure and hospitality job gains that Miami-Dade and Broward posted last month may reflect low-skill, low-wage positions.

“If you look at the income reports, the jobs we’re creating in Florida are not as good as the jobs we lost in the recession,” McCarty said. “And that’s a problem.”

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