Jobless rates Fall and Broward’s rate Drops like a Rock. But that’s not the Whole Irma Story

October 20, 2017

If there is going to be an Irma Effect, it hasn’t shown up in the South Florida and state unemployment numbers — except in one county. But statewide and in South Florida, employment took a beating in September and the sectors dependent on tourism and construction suffered, likely because of lost work due to the hurricane.

Miami-Dade County’s unemployment rate fell for the eighth straight month in September but continues to lag its immediate neighbor to the north and Florida as a whole, according to a monthly report released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The county’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 4.5 percent, a slight improvement over August’s 4.6 percent rate. But it represents a significant improvement compared to September 2016, when Miami-Dade’s unemployment sat at 5.4 percent.

Job fairs become more common as the economy improves. Miami Herald File Photo

Employment, though, took a beating by Irma — a loss of 16,300 Miami-Dade jobs over August, with the biggest hit in hospitality, 5,700 jobs, and professional services, 4,700.

Mason Williams, managing director and chief investment officer for Coral Gables Trust Co., said Hurricane Irma did impact the monthly numbers in Miami-Dade but sees the Irma Effect as temporary. Consumer sentiment is currently at multi-year highs and that will continue to attract tourism and activity to Miami-Dade and the state, he noted, and year-over-year jobs are still growing.

Over the past 12 months, the county gained 1,600 non-agricultural jobs. The trade, transportation and utilities category was a bright spot longer term; it added 4,100 jobs year over year.

“This has been a great year for the trade and logistics industry and will continue to grow as a result of the investments in the airport and seaport and the increase in new and enhanced educational programs,” Michael Finney, president of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, said in a news release. “In the past year, we have also gained companies such as, which will contribute to the increasing number once the fulfillment center is fully operational in the City of Opa-Locka.”

Broward County’s unemployment rate dropped like a rock in September, to 3.3 percent, down from 3.9 percent in August and 4.8 percent from a year ago. Broward’s non-agricultural jobs also dipped month over month, but the county has seen a gain of 13,000 jobs year over year. The county’s numbers are not adjusted to account for seasonal fluctuations in the workforce.

“We’re obviously very optimistic — the [month-over-month] unemployment rate drop of 20 percent is staggering. When you look [year over year], it’s a 30 percent drop. But to be honest, I am cautious until we fully understand the impact Hurricane Irma had on employment,” said Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

While year over year, most industries showed growth in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area, the month-over-month data told a different story. Construction jobs, typically a category that has been up recently, were down 2.6 percent from August. Hurricane Irma stopped work at sites around the metropolitan area for up to a week, but developers are also slowing down on launching new projects so this will be a category economists watch closely.

Hurt by Irma evacuations, leisure and hospitality totals were down 4.7 percent over August. Professional and business services and retail were also down due to Irma.

Notably, hospitality, retail and professional services are also down slightly year-over-year for the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area, but by just 0.7 percent in each category. Construction jobs year-over-year were still up 2.6 percent.

It will take another month or two “until we fully understand the impact for the folks that work hourly that may not have jobs back yet in South Florida,” Swindell said, noting the drop in leisure employment across the three counties.

Still, the longer term trends are promising, he said, and lower unemployment rates could help push wages up. That’s an area the Fort Lauderdale Alliance and other organizations have been focusing on, particularly with the rising cost of living the region has experienced.

“For whatever the reason, entry level wages are more depressed here than in other parts of the country, and we want to work on fixing that,” Swindell said. Part of that is educating employers, he said, but with unemployment at 3.3 percent, even if it bumps up a bit, the supply and demand will help drive up wages. “It also will require employers to look at untraditional sources of employees,” he said. “We think it a great opportunity to fill in jobs, particularly in our distressed communities.”

Florida’s jobless rate dipped again. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.8 percent, down a 0.2 percentage point from August, and down 1.1 percentage points from a year ago. That compares to a 4.2 percent U.S. jobless rate.

From August to September, the state lost 127,400 jobs, a large hit, but gained 62,400 jobs year over year. The number of jobless Floridians in September was 383,000, according to the state report.

Month-over-month statewide, sectors typically linked with hurricane recovery saw the highest growth; finance and insurance gained 2,600 jobs, for instance. The industries gaining the most jobs year over year were education and health services and the fastest-growing sector was construction.

Monroe County usually has the lowest unemployment in the state, but it didn’t in September due to Irma’s wallop. Its rate was 3.3 percent, jumping from 2.7 percent in August and likely indicating a number of hard-hit businesses closed permanently or cut their staffs. But Lee and Collier counties, also hard hit by last month’s hurricane, saw their unemployment rates dip.

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