Region’s March jobless rate lowest in 16 years

Ocala metro information industry job growth rate now second fastest in Florida


File photo: Construction workers build a large block wall. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted April 22, 2022 | By James Blevins 
james@ocalagazette.com

The unemployment rate in the tri-county region consisting of Marion, Citrus and Levy counties was 3.2% in March, a drop of nearly a full percentage point over the month and 2.5 percentage points lower than the region’s year ago rate of 5.7%, according to a CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion (CLM) press release on April 15.

The last time the region’s March unemployment rate was this low was in 2006, the release added.

Across the region, the labor force in March 2022 was 206,937, up 1,478 over the year for an annual growth rate of 0.7%. 

The number of those with jobs was 200,218, an increase of 6,425 compared to March 2021. The number of unemployed was 6,719, down 1,055 from the previous month and 4,947 fewer than one year ago. 

Dale French, executive vice president for CareerSource CLM, said the March jobs report reflects a “trifecta of positive economic indicators,” adding that in each county, both over the month and over the year, expansion of the labor force is fueled by an increase in the number of jobs as well as a drop in the number of unemployed.

“You certainly have times when the labor force expands because more people flood the labor market looking for jobs that aren’t there,” French said. “But anytime we see this kind of consistent new job creation, on top of fewer unemployed, we’re moving in the right direction.” 

Last month, Marion County had the 10th highest unemployment rate in the State of Florida—tied with Levy, Polk and Taylor counties—at 3.1%. 

Also with an unemployment rate of 3.1%, Ocala held the fourth highest unemployment rate amongst the state’s metro areas.

Marion County’s labor force increased by 197 to 142,460; the number of those with jobs rose by 870 to 138,014, and the number of unemployed dropped by 673 to 4,446. By comparison, the same time last year, when the jobless rate was 5.5%, the number of employed increased by 4,531, and the number of unemployed dropped by 3,330. 

Compared to all the metros across the state, the Ocala metropolitan statistical area (MSA) posted the second fastest annual job growth rate in the information industry at 20.0%, growing faster in the metro area than statewide. 

Information industry occupations include publishing industries (except Internet); broadcasting (except Internet); telecommunications; wired telecommunications carriers; and data processing, hosting and related services. 

The information sector comprises establishments engaged in the following processes: producing and distributing information and cultural products; providing the means to transmit or distribute these products, as well as data or communication; and processing said data. 

In March, the Ocala MSA had 600 information sector jobs, an increase of 100 jobs over the year. Nonagricultural employment in the Ocala MSA, which covers all of Marion County, was 112,100 in March, an increase of 2,400 jobs over the year for a 2.2% annual growth rate. 

In addition to the information industry, other industries gaining jobs over the year were trade, transportation and utilities (+1,500 jobs for a 5.5% job growth rate); leisure and hospitality (+700 jobs, 5.6%); mining, logging and construction (+200 jobs, 2.2%); manufacturing (+100 jobs, growing at 1.0% over the year); financial activities (+100 jobs, 2.5%); education and health services (+100 jobs for 0.5% percentage point gain); and other services (+100 jobs, growing at 3.4%). 

Industries losing jobs compared to March 2021 were government (-300 jobs which posted a -2.0% growth rate) and professional and business services (-200 jobs, -1.9%). 

Florida’s not seasonally adjusted jobless rate—a measure that matches the way local rates are calculated—was 2.7%, a 0.4 percentage point decrease over the month and 2.6% lower than March 2021. 

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3.2% in March 2022, down 0.1 percentage point from February 2022 rate, and down 2.2 percentage points from a year ago. There were 339,000 jobless Floridians, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), out of a labor force of 10,513,000. 

Adrienne Johnston, chief economist at the DEO, attributed a combination of a falling unemployment rate and a growing labor force as a good sign for Florida’s economy. 

“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 said in a conference call with reporters, adding 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,” she said. “They’re competing for qualified talent and they’re having to find ways to compete.”

“And that, in some cases, includes raising wages,” she added. “It includes finding other ways to incentivize their employees.” 

Florida was among 37 states where the unemployment rate dropped from February to March, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, with the rate holding steady in the other 13 states and the District of Columbia. 

The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.6% in March, according to the DEO. 

“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 last Friday. “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.” 

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 through the country,” NFIB-Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said in an April 12 statement. 

The monthly jobs report for April will be released on Friday, May 20. 

News Service of Florida contributed to the writing of this article.