For several job categories, state employment figures for February showed Polk County was the fastest jobs creator of all other metropolitan areas throughout Florida compared to last year.
Information technology jobs led the categories beating out other regions statewide with a 10.5% increase last month, Polk CareerSource said in its monthly jobs report.
In the “other services” category, which includes leisure and hospitality workers, new jobs grew at a rate of 7.7% from a year ago, with the category of trade workers, trucking, logistics and utility workers expanding by 6.9%.
The jobs in education and health services for the region increased by 3.4%. In all those categories combined, job growth was faster in Polk than statewide, the release said.
Also in February, the unemployment rate for Polk County was 3.7%, which is a drop from 6.3% a year ago. Florida’s unemployment rate in February was 3.1%.
Polk’s labor force was 332,457, up 7,578 or 2.3% over the year. There were 12,315 unemployed residents in the region.
In February, nonagricultural employment in the Lakeland-Winter Haven MSA was 262,100, an increase of 9,900 jobs, or 3.9%, over the year, the report said.
Of those new jobs, the industries gaining the most employment were trade, transportation, and utilities (up 5,100 jobs); leisure and hospitality (up 2,100 jobs); professional and business services (up 1,600 jobs); education and health services (up 1,200 jobs); other services (up 500 jobs); information (up 200 jobs); manufacturing (up 100 jobs); and financial activities (up 100 jobs).
Mining, logging and construction jobs fell by 700, and there were 300 fewer government workers over the year in Polk County.
Statewide, unemployment is low
Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Florida was 3.3% in February, down from 3.5% in January and 5.5% a year ago. There were 348,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 10,471,000.
By comparison, the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.8% in February.
The January job numbers for Florida showed the state had surpassed pre-pandemic levels of employment and had set a new record for the number of jobs, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
As of January, Florida’s employment reached 9,163,800, the unemployment rate sat at 3.5% percent, which was lower than the January national rate of 4%, and Florida had gained 504,000 jobs year-over-year. Additionally, Florida’s workforce grew to its highest point in history at more than 10.44 million thanks to a rebounding economy as pandemic fears waned and the state started to gain more new residents.
Locally, the economy remains especially strong in its logistics industry, wood pallet manufacturing and car dealerships, said Gary Ralston, managing partner at SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate.
The county has nearly seven times as many employees in warehouse and storage as the national average, he said. The county also has 1.7 times as many jobs in motor vehicle dealers compared with the national average.
In a series of Twitter posts, the Florida Chamber of Commerce noted that as of March 19, Florida has led the nation in business starts for the past two years, with Florida at 12,790, California: 10,810, Texas: 9,480 and New York: 6,830.
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Another Tweet on Wednesday touted per capita income in the Sunshine State reaching an all-time high of $60,761.
The Polk CareerSource release showed the region had an annual average wage in 2020 of $46,724, which was up 6.6% from 2019.
A cautionary forecast
A March 17 report by Sean Snaith, director of the U.S. Institute for Economic Forecasting at the University of Central Florida, raised some cautionary notes.
“The U.S. market is once again nearing full employment, but high oil and gasoline prices, rising inflation, labor shortages and a malfunctioning supply chain threaten the economic recovery — and that was before Russia invaded Ukraine,” according to the report.
Snaith said that growth in U.S. gross domestic product would level off by 2025 to 2.5%. GDP growth had accelerated to 5.7% in 2021 and is expected to ease to 3.5% this year.
Snaith said consumer spending accelerated to 7.9% in 2021 but will ease to 3% in 2022, then to 2.7% in 2023 before leveling off at 3% in 2024 and 2025.
He added, “the housing market remains tight with ultra-low inventories and still-low mortgage rates underpinning the sector. Housing starts rose from 1.4 million in 2020 to 1.6 million in 2021 but are expected to decelerate to 1.31 million by 2025.”
Payroll job growth will fall to 0.6% by 2025. It was 2.8% in 2021 and is expected to be 3.6% in 2022, 1.5% in 2023, and 0.8% in 2024, Snaith said.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: February unemployment figures show Polk County leads in many job categories.
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