By Jeff Ostrowski
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 5:21 p.m. Friday, June 17, 2011
Posted: 10:33 a.m. Friday, June 17, 2011
The region’s job market improved in May as Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest point in two years.
Palm Beach County’s jobless rate dipped to 10.2 percent from 10.3 percent in April even as more people looked for work, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation said Friday.
“We think this is a positive commentary on a slow but steady recovery in the area’s economy,” said Kathryn Schmidt, president and chief executive of Workforce Alliance, the non-profit employment organization for Palm Beach County.
Martin County unemployment fell to 10.1 percent from 10.4 percent in April. St. Lucie County bucked the trend of falling jobless rates – unemployment there rose to 12.5 percent in May from 12.3 percent in April.
Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 10.6 percent in May from 10.8 percent in April. It was the state’s best showing in 21 months.
Florida added 28,000 jobs from April to May, more than any other state in the country. State labor economist Rebecca Rust said Florida’s strong showing wasn’t the result of a robust state economy so much as the effects of tornadoes and the lingering fallout of the Japanese tsunami, both of which affected the rest of the country more than Florida.
In another not-so-joyful sign, Florida’s unemployment rate remains well above the national average. Florida had the nation’s fourth-highest jobless rate in May, after only California, Nevada and Rhode Island. And Florida has lost 832,900 jobs since the recession.
“We’re moving in the right direction, just not fast enough,” said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith.
In a surprise, construction employment rose from April to May. Statewide, the construction industry added 9,100 positions. Palm Beach County added 600 construction workers.
While new construction of houses and buildings remains slow, contractors have seen increased demand for remodeling, said Christopher Roog, executive vice president of the Gold Coast Builders Association in West Palm Beach.
The state statistics painted a mixed picture for Palm Beach County’s labor market. By one measure, the number of people working in the county increased to 555,462 in May, up by 4,616 from April. But by another measure, the county’s nonagricultural employment fell by 300 positions from April to May.
Some employers are ramping up hiring. American Energy Innovations in Stuart plans to hire 600 people over five years and already has received hundreds of applications.
“Unemployment being what it is, there are plenty of people available,” said Philip Catsman of American Energy Innovations.
John C. Cassidy Air Conditioning of West Palm Beach recently received more than 200 resumes after advertising two openings for receptionists.
“We got people all the way from receptionists to people with law degrees for a $10-an-hour job,” owner John Cassidy said.
From May 2010 to May 2011, Palm Beach County added 200 jobs, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation said. Leisure and hospitality added 3,100 jobs, education and health services added 2,000 positions and the financial industry grew by 1,400 jobs. Shrinking sectors included government, which shed 2,800 positions, and retail trade, down by 1,300 workers.