Region’s jobs report for May shows strongest employment in 15 years

In this file photo, Motorists drive on I-75 as shown from the Southwest 66th Street bridge south of Ocala on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.

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Posted June 24, 2022 | By James Blevins

The unemployment rate in the tri-county region consisting of Marion, Citrus and Levy counties was 3.1% in May, according to a CareerSource CLM June 17 press release, 2.0 percentage points lower than the region’s year ago rate of 5.1%.

Across the region, the labor force in May 2022 was 209,108, up 2,790 for an increase of 1.4% over the year. There were 6,436 unemployed residents in the region and 202,672 employed—the most people with jobs in May in the last five years, according to Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO); and 7,495 more than in February 2020 before the pandemic hit the area.

The last time the region’s employment numbers in May were near as good, continued the DEO report, was in 2007 when the labor force was 209,106 and there were 200,612 employed but 8,494 unemployed.

Levy County held the lowest unemployment rate (2.8%) in the region, followed by Marion County (3.0%) and Citrus County (3.5%). The rates in all three counties rose by 0.2 percentage points.

Dale French, CareerSource CLM’s executive vice president, said that while the region continues to see historically low unemployment numbers, “area businesses are growing and hiring and training at a very fast rate.”

“There are lots of opportunities [in the tri-county area] for anyone seeking good, gainful employment,” he said.

Marion County had a labor force of 144,227 in May 2022, with 139,939 employed and 4,288 unemployed, earning its 3.0% unemployment rate.

The rate ties Marion County with Hernando and Polk counties for the 9th highest unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) out of 67 counties in the State of Florida. Contextually, Highlands and Putnam counties had the highest unemployment rate in the state at 3.6%.

Additionally, compared to all the metros across the state, the Ocala metropolitan statistical area (MSA) had a 3.0% unemployment rate as well, ranked fourth in Florida, tied with Lakeland-Winter Haven. Sebring MSA (3.6%) had the highest unemployment rate, according to the jobs report.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.0% in May, unchanged from the April 2022 rate, and down 1.9 percentage points from a year ago. There were 313,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 10,592,000. The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.6% in May.

Seasonally adjusted total nonagricultural employment was 9,299,100 in May in Florida, an increase of 11,200 jobs (+0.1%) over the month. The state gained 468,100 jobs over the year, an increase of 5.3%. Nationally, the number of jobs rose 4.5% over the year.

Florida’s total nonagricultural and private sector employment surpassed the February 2020 (pre-pandemic) level in October 2021 and labor force surpassed the February 2020 level in June 2021.

Florida lost 1,282,500 jobs from February to April 2020, according to the DEO, and has since gained back all jobs lost (+1,506,100 jobs). All ten major industries experienced positive over-the-year job growth in May.

The industries gaining jobs over the year included leisure and hospitality (+127,700 jobs, +11.7% increase); trade, transportation and utilities (+110,000 jobs, +6.0%); professional and business services (+94,900 jobs, +6.6%); financial activities (+34,800 jobs, +5.6%); manufacturing (+25,300 jobs, +6.6%); education and health services (+23,700 jobs, +1.8%); other services (+21,200 jobs, +6.4%); construction (+13,500 jobs, +2.3%); information (+10,800 jobs, +7.9%); and total government (+8,600 jobs, +0.8%).

Despite the gains, Florida has seen increases in people leaving jobs for 14 consecutive months to pursue better pay and benefits.

Jimmy Heckman, DEO bureau chief of workforce statistics and economics, said in a conference call with reporters that the growth of people leaving jobs indicates “individuals are more optimistic about their ability to find work if they leave their current job.”

“This pattern is also the result of the continued decline in total unemployment, as the labor force expands and the pool of people experiencing persistent unemployment shrinks, the voluntary transitions will naturally tend to grow as a share of employment,” Heckman said.

A looming recession remains a concern for economists, Heckman continued, as U.S. stocks fell last week with investors weighing the potential impacts of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to fight inflation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke to reporters on June 16 in Miami regarding the cost of gas across the country.

“A lot of states are even higher than what we’re seeing in Florida [at the pump],” said DeSantis. “There’s been places like out in Nevada, California, they’ve been over five, six bucks for a while. And so, this is really, really problematic, and it has a huge impact on people’s ability to make ends meet. And it permeates things like what you see in the grocery store.”

State and local employment reports for June 2022 are scheduled for release on Friday, July 22.

Previous reporting done by “News Service of Florida” contributed to the writing of this article.