Florida on track for recovery, faster than some states

At midyear, the Florida economy continues to chug along on the road to recovery, stronger than many other states in the nation. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area also is showing steady progress, but there still are obstacles ahead.

During the month of June 2014, Florida added 37,400 jobs, more than California, New York or any other state. In past 12 months, Florida gained 237,000 nonfarm jobs, an increase of 3.1 percent and twice as many as New York, a similarly sized state.

Unemployment in Florida for June 2014 was 6.2 percent – down from 7.4 percent a year ago and a peak of 11.4 percent – better than many other states including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

There is other good news in the latest monthly unemployment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the state Department of Economic Opportunity. Construction, hospitality, professional services and healthcare all showed significant improvement from a year ago.

According to the reports, job gains over the past year included:

• Trade, transportation, and utilities (+52,500 jobs, +3.3 percent).

• Professional and business services (+45,300 jobs, +4.1 percent);

• Construction (+41,700 jobs, +11.5 percent);

• Leisure and hospitality (+39,500 jobs, +3.8 percent);

• Private education and health services (+34,100 jobs, +3.0 percent);

• Financial activities (+10,300 jobs, +2.0 percent);

• Other services (+5,500 jobs, +1.8 percent);

• Manufacturing (+5,200 jobs, +1.6 percent);

• Government (+1,900 jobs, +0.2 percent); and

• Information (+1,300 jobs, +1.0 percent).

Regions in Florida with the largest year-to-year job gains included the Tampa Bay area of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater (+25,300 jobs, +2.2 percent).

But before we break out in celebration, it must be noted that Florida is still 200,000 jobs short of the peak employment of the 8,048,000 people who were working before the start of the recent recession. At the current rate of adding about 200,000 jobs a year, it may take Florida until next year to reach that break-even point.

Also of concern, the latest statistics for June indicate there were 597,000 Floridians still out of work and looking for jobs. Getting all those people back to work may be extremely difficult to achieve.

Additionally, as is the case nationwide in this slow economic recovery, many people with jobs may be underemployed, that is working at jobs and salaries below their level of skills. People who have jobs also may be working less than a full 40-hour work week. Also, many people have given up looking for work and dropped out of the labor force entirely.

So, the outlook can be summed up in a word, mixed.

Five years after the recession officially ended, the nation is recovering at the slowest rate of job growth experienced after any recent U.S. recession. Employers large and small have been slow to add new full-time workers, sometimes because of uncertainty regarding taxes, healthcare, immigration, trade and other issues.

Nevertheless, businesses especially in Florida are beginning to navigate out of the economic doldrums and adding workers at a steady pace.

The hope and expectation is that the Florida recovery will continue to be solid throughout the second half of 2014 and through 2015.

Joseph Santangelo is a former reporter for the Bergen Record in New Jersey and writer for magazines in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He has worked in business, government and community service.

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