Storming ahead: County, state jobless rates dip post-Irma

A lot of economists eyed Hurricane Irma warily. The storm, they feared, stood to hurt Florida’s employment picture. The storm crossed the Straits of Florida on Sept. 10 and started a march up the peninsula leaving debris and unprecedented power outages. There was a lot of opportunity for the state to lose jobs.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Just the opposite. “You have more job opportunities after the hurricane,” Marcelo Dossantos, director of business services at CareerSource Research Coast, said.

The state released its September jobs report on Friday, Oct. 20. The Florida Department of Economic Affairs reported that the state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate fell from 4 percent in August to 3.8 percent in September. It’s the first time the state has dipped below a 4 percent seasonally-adjusted jobless rate in more than a decade. The national seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in September.

Seasonal adjustment is a statistical tool to account for normal fluctuations in the jobs market.

Locally, the jobs picture was strong after the storm. St. Lucie County’s jobless rate dipped from a not-seasonally-adjusted 5 percent unemployment rate to 4.2 percent. St. Lucie County and Martin County together form the Port St. Lucie Metropolitan Statistical Area. The MSA had a 4 percent not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate.

Dossantos said his preliminary look at the numbers indicates that not only did the local unemployment rate drop, but more people got into the job market.

“There’s an uptick in the labor force and decrease in unemployment,” he said.

In other words, the local labor force participation rate seemed to move up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the national labor force participation rate. It shows on a national level what Dossantos believes is happening on a local one.

The September national labor force participation rate was 63.1 percent, up from 62.9 in August and July. It’s the highest national labor participation rate since September of 2013, when it was 63.3 percent.

That apparent jump in the local labor force participation, Dossantos said, happening in short order indicates to him that more locals are commuting, meaning they’re finding pay that’ll encourage it.

“I’m wondering if some of the jobs created were south of us,” he said. “Most of the damage from the hurricanes happened south of us.”

However, even if the temporary recovery work has some commuting to Palm Beach and other southern counties, Dossantos said it’s creating strong local employment that’s likely to continue.

“People are jumping into the job market, because there are jobs out there,” he said.

At the same time, Dossantos said, employers are squeezed to find workers.

“I’ve seen local employers increasing their wages, because they’re seeing people leave for a dollar (an hour) more,” he said.

He said the holiday shopping and South Florida tourist seasons are likely to squeeze employers’ pickings even more. He said the next three jobs reports will reveal that.   

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