Unemployment rate in Miami-Dade holds steady but trouble may be brewing

Job seekers line up outside the Shula Hotel & Golf Resort for a job fair in Miami Lakes.
Job seekers line up outside the Shula Hotel & Golf Resort for a job fair in Miami Lakes. THE MIAMI HERALD

South Florida’s economy had a solid month as the unemployment rate held steady in Miami-Dade County and dipped slightly in Broward County. But behind the big-picture numbers are potentially troubling signs, as growth in some of South Florida’s key industries shows signs of slowing down.

In Miami-Dade, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.8 percent in October, unchanged from September, according to monthly state figures released Friday. That’s down from 6.4 percent in October 2014.

In Broward, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent in October, down from 4.9 percent in September and 5.5 percent in October 2014. Broward also created 26,100 jobs year over year, the third most in the state after the Orlando and Tampa areas. Miami-Dade created 24,400 jobs.

The October numbers are preliminary data released by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. They will be confirmed next month. Miami-Dade’s jobless rate is adjusted to account for seasonal changes in the workforce, meaning it is a reliable barometer of month-to-month changes in the economy. Broward’s numbers are not adjusted.

Economists have worried that turmoil abroad and slowdowns in European, Latin American and Chinese markets would slow down Florida’s economy.

“I think things like the recession in Brazil are starting to have an effect,” said Sean Snaith, a professor and economist at the University of Central Florida. “But the labor market responds to changes in these big economic forces with a bit of a lag. It’s not going to immediately trigger layoffs or stop hiring but it will start to slow things down.”

Even so, Snaith said, the October report was positive.

“We’re continuing to create jobs at a fast pace,” he said.

Florida’s unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent in October, compared to 5.2 percent in September and 5.8 percent in October 2014. The national unemployment rate was 5 percent for October.

As a whole, Florida created 239,000 jobs over the past year, according to the state. That’s an annual growth rate of 3 percent compared to 2 percent nationwide.

“We are outpacing the general economy,” Snaith said.

But there are signs that Miami-Dade is already starting to feel some of the world’s economic pain.

“If you look below the big picture, we’re starting to see growth in employment slowing in several key areas,” said Manuel Lasaga, president of the Miami-based economic consultancy StratInfo.

Over the last year, state numbers show that Miami-Dade’s construction industry has shed 2,100 jobs, a decline of 5.4 percent. Growth is also slowing in the category of workers that includes architects and engineers.

One potential explanation: major infrastructure projects including the dredging of PortMiami and several local expressway improvements have finished or are winding down, said Lasaga, who teaches at Florida International University. And the slowdown in the Latin American economies has already led residential developers to pull back from condo projects downtown.

In addition, Lasaga pointed out that Miami’s retail and trade sectors are growing slower than in Florida as a whole.

“We’re much more dependent on Latin America than the rest of the state and the strong dollar and the weakness of those economies are starting to have an impact,” he said. “A lot of tourists come to Miami to shop.”

Tourism, construction and retail drive much of South Florida’s economy.

But other economists said they saw the report as a monthly blip.

“It’s a really good report statewide,” said Mekael Teshome, an analyst at PNC Bank. “The Miami-Dade area in general was a little weaker than I would have thought, but I don’t necessarily see it as a sign of trouble long-term.”

Teshome said cheap gasoline, an increase in jobs and rising wages would contribute to higher consumer spending and a strong holiday season.

“I’m still taking a positive view that 2016 is shaping up to be a good year for the region,” he said.

The state data show that more than 16,500 workers in Miami-Dade have found jobs over the last three months, while the number of unemployed people has fallen by nearly 3,200. The county’s overall civilian workforce stands at 1.31 million.

At 5.8 percent, Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since 2008. It soared to 12 percent in 2009.

The unemployment rate measures the number of people looking for work who can’t find it. It does not count those who have given up on finding a job.

Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment at 3.4 percent. Hendry County, in rural south-central Florida, had the highest at 9.4 percent.

Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas