Monthly unemployment up in Miami-Dade, but annual trend is good

Hundreds of people attended the kickoff and rrientation of Employ Miami Dade at D.A. Dorsey Educational Center in Miami on Dec. 15, 2014. Its goal is to link employers with construction jobs with the chronically unemployed.
Hundreds of people attended the kickoff and rrientation of Employ Miami Dade at D.A. Dorsey Educational Center in Miami on Dec. 15, 2014. Its goal is to link employers with construction jobs with the chronically unemployed. EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade County’s unemployment rate inched higher in December for the first time in months as job growth slowed from the faster pace set through most of 2014.

But the county still ended the year with a record job count, thanks to a growing economy that has erased the hiring losses from a deep national recession.

December’s payroll report extends a string of months that saw record job counts, making 2014 a milestone year for a recovery that began in late 2010.

“It’s phenomenal that we’ve not only reached but exceeded the number of jobs since before the recession,” said Larry Williams, CEO of the Beacon Council, the county’s economic development arm. “That really shows the strength of our economy and how well Miami has rebounded.”

But momentum slowed a bit as 2014 came to a close, raising the stakes for growth this year. In December, Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate hit 6.7 percent. That was up from November’s 6.4 percent.

The numbers behind the rate told a more complex story. The count of people with jobs in Miami-Dade actually went up in December, but the number of job-seekers grew faster. That boosted the unemployment rate, but also suggested job-seekers were feeling more confident about the economy.

In terms of job growth, the expansion in Florida’s largest local economy continued at a slower clip: Miami-Dade added 30,300 jobs over the last year, for a 2.8 percent gain. That left the county with a record number of jobs — 1.12 million — but also the slowest rate of job growth since the end of 2013.

“If you look at the year-over-year data as opposed to what happened in December only, I think you see a continued trend of economic recovery, of a labor market that continues to heal at a fast pace,” said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida.

Statewide, Miami-Dade’s higher unemployment was an outlier. Florida’s jobless rate dipped slightly to 5.6 percent in December, down from 5.8 percent the previous month.

But the state figures were a mirror image of Miami-Dade’s trends: in Florida, both job seekers and job holders decreased from November. The combination allowed the dip in the unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of people in the labor force who want work but can’t find it.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in Broward County fell from 4.8 percent to 4.5 percent in December, the lowest figure since April 2008.

Miami-Dade’s unemployment rate is considered a more reliable local economic measure because it is adjusted by the U.S. Department of Labor to reflect seasonal changes in the economy. The rates for Broward and the rest of Florida’s smaller counties are not seasonally adjusted.

The traditional pillars of South Florida’s economy — tourism and construction — did well in 2014.

Rising home prices are helping the building industry in South Florida recover after it was plastered during the recession. And while most employment categories in Miami-Dade showed gains across 2014, the construction industry grew at the fastest pace, adding 2,900 jobs.

The financial industry, also devastated by the economic crash, gained jobs at a strong pace too (up 2,700 positions), as did the employment category that includes many white-collar workers such as architects, lawyers and accountants (up 3,400 positions).

One area of weakness in the jobs report: public-sector employment.

Local government lost 1,200 jobs in 2014, or 1.1 percent of total employment. (Public school teachers are not included in that count.)

“After the budget crunch we went through at the state and local level during the recession, I think there’s an abundance of caution about hiring public-sector workers,” Snaith said. “But as the economy continues to grow and the population continues to grow, there will be more of a need for government services.”

While the growing labor market is a positive step, it’s also important to think about the quality of newly created jobs, said Alayne Unterberger, a researcher on social and economic policy at Florida International University.

“It’s not just the number of jobs that is going to matter for a recovery, it’s also whether those jobs are full time and offer fair salaries and good benefits,” Unterberger said.