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Jax Daily Record Friday, Mar. 27, 202001:30 PM EST

Jacksonville's job market: ‘The end of an amazing stretch of job growth’

Labor market for Jacksonville and Florida was strong before COVID-19 epidemic hit.
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

February unemployment data released March 27 shows a strong labor market for Jacksonville and Florida, but that changed as businesses began shutting down in March.

The first signs came March 27 when the U.S. Department of Labor reported on new filings for unemployment insurance.

Claims for unemployment insurance in Florida skyrocketed to a record 74,021 for the week ended March 21, more than 10 times the 6,463 claims filed the previous week.

The Labor Department said Florida was experiencing layoffs in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and retail trade industries.

Data on new claims for the Jacksonville area is not yet available.

Even before the pandemic impact, retailers already were cutting jobs in the Jacksonville area.

Friday’s report by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity showed retail trade was the worst performing sector in the area.

Retailers reported a 1,800-job decline in their payrolls in the 12 months through February, a 2.2% drop.

That number is expected to rise in March with so many retail establishments forced to close or severely curtail operations.

Overall, Jacksonville’s unemployment rate edged lower in February before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was felt in the area.

The unemployment rate in the Jacksonville metropolitan area of Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties fell from 3.1% in January to 3% in February, the Department of Economic Opportunity said Friday.

Duval County’s unemployment rate also fell by 0.1 point, to 3.1% last month.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 2.8% in February, unchanged from the record low level it first reached in January, the Department of Economic Opportunity said.

The agency does not seasonally adjust the data for the Jacksonville market in its monthly reports. However, the University of North Florida’s Local Economic Indicators Project said when the data is seasonally adjusted, it shows an increase in Jacksonville’s jobless rate from 2.79% in January to 2.97% in February.

“The job market was excellent in the Jacksonville area in February with robust growth in the workforce and employment,” UNF economist Albert Loh said.

“It is sad to comment on how strong the numbers were for the local economy in February, knowing that they will also represent the end of an amazing stretch of job growth,” he said.

In addition to retailing, the only other major sector to lose jobs in Northeast Florida was the information sector, which declined by 100 in the 12-month period ended in February, or 1.1%.

The Department of Economic Opportunity said the information sector was the only one losing jobs statewide, falling by 1.4% in the past year.

Total nonfarm jobs in Florida rose by 169,800 from February 2019 through February 2020, or 1.9%.

The Jacksonville area beat that growth rate by adding 21,500 jobs in the 12 months, or 3%.

Pandemic effects likely will be pronounced in the next scheduled jobs report April 17. The Department of Economic Opportunity will announce preliminary numbers for March and revised numbers for February.


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