Employment figures working out well in St. Lucie County

A not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate already below 5 percent going down more is “pretty vanilla this time around.”

That’s the judgment of Marcelo Dossantos, vice president of strategic development at CareerSource Research Coast.

The state released its March jobs report on April 20. The Department of Economic Opportunity reported that St. Lucie County’s not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 4.6 percent last month. That was down from 4.7 the month before. At the same time last year, St. Lucie was at 5 percent.

What is eye-catching to Dossantos is not so much the low and lowering unemployment rate by itself. “I did notice the labor force was up,” he said.

The state estimated the county’s labor force at almost 140,000, up about a 1,000 from March 2017. Of course, there’s been working-age population growth. But, Dossantos said, that’s unlikely to account for all the labor force growth. “That means, of course, more people are entering the workforce, which is good,” he said.

Nationally, the labor force participation rate was at 62.9 percent in March. That was down slightly from February when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports it was at 63 percent. The bureau reports that the national labor force participation rate was 63 percent in March 2017, too. The national labor force participation rate for March was at 66.1 percent a decade ago. It steadily declined for March until 2015, when it reached 62.7 percent. The 2016 March labor force participation rate was 63 percent.

Dossantos said that locally he’s seen anecdotal evidence there’s greater optimism among workers, which is likely pushing up the county’s labor force participation. There’s reason for local optimism.

The Port St. Lucie Metropolitan Statistical Area – which includes all of St. Lucie and Martin counties – had about 148,000 jobs in March, up about 1,500 over the year. It had the second fastest annual job growth rate for MSAs in the state.

The MSA’s not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in March, down from 4.7 percent in March 2017. In March 2016, the MSA’s not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was at 5.2 percent. The MSA has been below 5 percent since August.

One drag on the unemployment rate, Dossantos said, is some mismatch between local employers’ needs and the workforce’s training – what’s called the “skills gap.”

“The positions are available, but the skilled individuals aren’t there,” he said.   n

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