Florida's jobless rate dips to 3.2 percent as workers have unprecedented opportunities
Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to 3.2 percent in March, as workers shift away from gigs at hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues for higher-paying jobs in manufacturing, warehousing and logistics.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity released a report Friday that said the March jobless rate was down from 3.3 percent in February. Continued decreases in the rate come despite employers reportedly struggling to retain workers.
“The combination of (a) falling unemployment rate and a growing labor force is a very good sign for Florida's economy,” Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, said in a conference call with reporters. “This means that more and more Floridians continue to enter the job market and they're able to find work on a consistent basis.”
Johnston added that as people appear more optimistic about finding work if they leave their current jobs, conversations among economists have returned to pre-pandemic discussions about a “tight labor market.”
"We're having those conversations that we were having two or three years ago, where all businesses, all industries in our state are growing,” Johnston said. “They're competing for qualified talent and they're having to find ways to compete. And that in some cases includes raising wages, it includes finding other ways to incentivize their employees.”
The state has also seen a shift in where people are finding work, with professional and business-services sectors topping the list for job gains in the monthly report, while the leisure and hospitality sector had the largest decline.
The March unemployment rate, which was down from 5.4 percent a year earlier, represented an estimated 339,000 Floridians qualified as out of work from a labor force of 10.51 million. From February to March, 8,000 more people found work in Florida, while the labor force grew by 42,000.
The report said Florida gained 497,800 jobs over the year, an increase of 5.7 percent, while the number of jobs nationally rose by 4.5 percent in the same time.
In early 2020, as businesses cut back or shuttered as the coronavirus pandemic began, Florida’s unemployment rate went from 2.7 percent in February 2020 to 4.5 percent in March 2020. The rate peaked at 13.9 percent in May 2020, when 1.4 million people were out of work. During the initial months of the pandemic, the state lost 1.28 million jobs.
The state estimates that since that time, Florida has picked up 1.44 million jobs.
A news release from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said last month accounted for the “largest single month of growth in manufacturing since May 2020.”
“The economic data underscores that Florida is outperforming the nation by protecting the freedom Floridians need to do business and drive economic success,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Industries like manufacturing continue to see growth because Florida prioritizes workforce development and expanding opportunities for businesses and families in our state.”
The national jobless rate in March was 3.6 percent, down from 3.8 percent in February.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that Florida was among 37 states where the unemployment rate dropped from February to March, with the rate holding steady in the other 13 states and the District of Columbia.
“Over the last year, the unemployment rate dropped in every state, and many states have reached historic lows,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “These aren’t just numbers on a page: These are millions of Americans back at work and able to support themselves and their families with good-paying jobs and enjoy the dignity a job provides.”
While Biden credited his economic plans, Florida Republican leaders have warned about federal policies. State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis called for DeSantis to make unspecified budget cuts to brace Florida against a potential recession. Lawmakers last month passed a budget for the fiscal year that will start July 1, though they have not formally sent the spending plan to DeSantis.
Meanwhile, the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported decreased optimism among business owners, primarily because of inflation that the group said has caused nearly three-fourths of businesses to increase prices.
“Florida’s economy has held up remarkably well the last couple of years, but we aren’t immune from soaring inflation and other challenges facing small businesses throughout the country,” NFIB-Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said in a statement Tuesday.
Across Florida, the lowest jobless rate in March was in Monroe County, at 1.7 percent, followed by St. Johns County at 2.0 percent and Wakulla and Okaloosa counties at 2.1 percent.
Highlands County had the highest rate at 3.9 percent, followed by Putnam County at 3.8 percent, and Citrus and Hamilton counties at 3.7 percent.
Among large metropolitan areas, the Jacksonville and Tampa Bay regions were at 2.5 percent, down from 2.9 percent in February. The Pensacola region was at 2.6 percent after being at 3.0 percent in February.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area was at 2.8 percent, down from 3.0 percent in February. The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area went from 3.4 percent in February to 2.9 percent in March.
The state unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted, while the county and metropolitan rates are not.