April 18, 2008
Florida’s jobless rate hit a four-year high in March as the state’s economy continued to suffer the effects of the housing crash, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation said Friday.
Florida’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose to 4.9 percent in March from 4.6 percent in February.
It was the highest level of unemployment in Florida since February 2004, state officials said.
Palm Beach County’s jobless rate climbed to 5 percent in March, up from 4.7 percent in February and 3.5 percent in March 2007.
Martin County unemployment jumped to 5.3 percent from 5 percent a month earlier, while St. Lucie County’s jobless rate rose to 6.6 percent in March from 6.3 percent in February.
As recently as late 2006, the state’s jobless rate was 3.1 percent.
“When we had 3 percent unemployment, so much of it was being driven by construction and real estate activity,” said William Pittenger, an economist at Seacoast National Bank in Stuart.
In the past year, though, construction employment plunged 13 percent statewide and 10 percent in Palm Beach County.
The construction industry isn’t the only part of the economy that’s losing jobs. Manufacturing, the financial industry, and business and professional services also are shedding positions.
With Florida’s housing woes continuing, Pittenger expects the state’s unemployment rate to keep rising to 6 percent.
“We’re still looking for bottom,” he said. “There’s just an enormous amount of uncertainty out there.”
Sean Snaith, a usually optimistic economist at the University of Central Florida, likewise acknowledged that housing is hurting Florida workers.
“The impact of the housing meltdown continues to adversely affect the state’s economy,” Snaith said. “We can expect more job reports like this one over the next three to six months.”
David Sprinkle, head of Florida operations for Ajilon Professional Staffing, said times are tough for workers whose expertise is in construction or the mortgage industry.
But, he added, there are plenty of jobs for workers with the right skills.
“The jobs aren’t falling off the trees any more, where employers will take anybody,” Sprinkle said. “We’re in a market correction. But accounting, health care and hospitality are doing extremely well.”