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Albert Loh
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Mar. 14, 201712:00 PM EST

Good start to 2017 with drop in unemployment

by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Jacksonville’s labor market looked a bit different in January than it did in December, after the state recalculated its 2016 data.

However, positive signals remained as 2017 began.

The unemployment rate in the Jacksonville metropolitan area (consisting of Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties) rose from 4.5 percent in December to 5.2 percent in January, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said Monday.

However, the state agency does not adjust the local data for seasonal factors, and January is a month when unemployment always goes up as businesses lay off workers hired for the holiday rush in November and December.

When the data is adjusted for that seasonal factor, it shows the jobless rate in the Jacksonville area actually dropped from 4.97 percent in December to 4.68 percent in January, according to the University of North Florida’s Local Economic Indicators Project.

UNF economist Albert Loh said a significant indicator in the latest data is the size of the labor force, which was basically unchanged at about 737,000 in January.

That means workers who were laid off after the holiday season are actively looking for new jobs. When the economy is weak, some laid-off workers stop looking for jobs and are not counted in the labor force.

“This is an indication of worker confidence,” Loh said. “I think that’s the positive in this.”

A separate survey of business payrolls found the Jacksonville area added 18,300 jobs from January 2016 through January 2017, a 2.8 percent annual increase.

However, that’s lower than the 3.3 percent job growth reported by the Department of Economic Opportunity in December.

The January employment report by the state agency always includes revisions for the previous year, a process known as rebenchmarking. That’s why the report doesn’t come out until March.

The new report shows a somewhat different makeup in jobs than the agency was reporting last year.

For example, the information sector was consistently showing a decline in jobs last year and was, in some months, the only sector losing jobs. However, the January report shows a 2.2 percent increase in jobs in the information sector in the 12-month period.

Also, the December report showed the construction industry was a leading sector in job growth in Northeast Florida, growing by 6.6 percent.

In January after the revisions, the construction sector was growing by a more modest 3 percent.

The Jacksonville area had modest growth across most industry sectors in January. The only major sectors losing jobs were professional and technical services, down 3.2 percent, and transportation, warehousing and utilities, down 1.4 percent.

The state agency reported the unemployment rate rose in each of the five counties in the metro area, without seasonal adjustment.

Duval County’s jobless rate rose by 0.6 percentage points to 5.4 percent and even after a seasonal adjustment, it still rose from 4.69 percent in December to 5.45 percent in January, Loh said.

St. Johns County’s unadjusted rate rose by 0.7 points to 4.3 percent, but that was still the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state. Only Monroe County, at 3.5 percent, was lower.

Florida’s statewide unemployment rate rose by 0.1-point to a seasonally-adjusted 5 percent, the Department of Economic Opportunity said. Job growth across the state was 3.4 percent.

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