The Space Coast continued to gain jobs in March, as Brevard County pulls out of a pandemic-fueled economic downturn.
The problem now: Many employers are finding it hard to fill jobs that are available.
Brevard’s total nonagricultural employment increased to 230,000 in March, a gain of 2,400 jobs from February. The 1.1% job gain in Brevard was the seventh-highest percentage increase of the state’s 25 metropolitan areas and metropolitan divisions, according to newly released data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The job count in Brevard, however, remains 3,100 below the level in March 2020, at a time when the pandemic was beginning.
“I think we’re doing fantastic in Brevard County,” as the economic recovery continues, CareerSource Brevard President Marci Murphy said. “Our issue is going to be finding job-seekers to fill the open positions. Employers are having a hard time finding the job-seekers. It’s across the board.”
Murphy said the issue is widespread in the job market, including in aerospace, health care, manufacturing and retail.
“Basically, we’re sitting at full employment,” Murphy said.
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Downtown Melbourne shopkeepers are experiencing “significant” problems trying to hire new employees, Melbourne Main Street Executive Director Kim Agee said.
Based on results of a merchant poll, Agee plans to work with CareerSource Brevard to help inform downtown business owners about hiring resources.
“That is the thread that I’m seeing across the board: They have job openings. They’re getting all kinds of candidates. They’re setting up interviews — and five-people-deep don’t even show up,” Agee said. “They confirm the day before, and they’re just not coming in. I’m hearing it from all kinds of industry — from restaurant to retail to office.”
Brevard unemployment at 4.5%
Brevard’s unemployment rate was 4.5% in March, unchanged from February and down from 5.2% in March 2020. The local jobless rate had risen as high as 13.2% last April.
The March data ranks Brevard tied for sixth among the state’s metropolitan areas and tied for 25th among the state’s 67 counties, for having the lowest jobless rate in March.
A separate state database shows that the Brevard labor force expanded by 2,684 from February to March, with 2,668 more people employed and 16 more people unemployed. That’s a sign of more people entering the local labor force, as job prospects improve.
The labor force data is based on a survey of households, while the job count data is based on a survey of up to 20,000 employers. So the two reports do not precisely match, although they show similar trends.
Adrienne Johnston, chief economist for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said she is seeing job opportunities strengthening across the state as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and are less hesitant to venture out to stores, restaurants and entertainment venues.
Just as the downturn occurred faster than previous recessions, so is the recovery, Johnston said during a media briefing to discuss the March employment data.
Florida lost 1,269,200 jobs from February to April 2020, and has since gained back 750,700 jobs.
Johnston said the state technically is at or near “full employment,” although she would like to see more months of data before classifying it at that.
The “seasonally adjusted” statewide unemployment rate was 4.7% in March, unchanged from February and down from 4.9% in March 2020. The “not seasonally adjusted” statewide rate was 5.3% in March, up from 5.1% in February and up from 5.0% in March 2020.
There were 9,695,000 people employed in Florida in March, up 45,000 from February; and 475,000 people unemployed in Florida in March, up 1,000 from February.
“We continue to see job growth across the state across industries,” Johnston said, with 18 of the metro areas showing job gains from February to March.
The monthly county and metro area rates are reported only as not seasonally adjusted, which means they don’t reflect seasonal variations for such things as the start of a school year or the pre-Christmas shopping period.
Last May, the statewide unemployment rate peaked at 14.2% (seasonally adjusted) and at 14.3% (not seasonally adjusted).
Brevard’s four most populous cities — the ones tracked separately by the Department of Economic Opportunity — also showed strong job comebacks since their unemployment rates peaked in April 2020.
- Melbourne: 4.7% in March, down from 5.0% in February and from the peak of 13.8% in April 2020.
- Palm Bay: 4.9% in March, down from 5.1% in February and from the peak of 13.5% in April 2020.
- Rockledge: 4.1% in March, down from 4.2% in February and from the peak of 12.2% in April 2020.
- Titusville: 5.1% in March, up from 4.8% in February, but down from the peak of 15.4% in April 2020.
Four of the 10 major industry sectors in Brevard gained jobs over the last year.
The industries gaining in jobs over the year in Brevard included manufacturing (+1,100 jobs); construction, mining and logging (+1,000 jobs); professional and business services (+800 jobs); and financial activities (+400 jobs).
Industries losing jobs included leisure and hospitality (-3,000 jobs); education and health services (-1,300 jobs); government (-1,100 jobs); other services (-700 jobs); and information (-300 jobs).
The job count in the trade, transportation and utilities industry was unchanged over the year.
Factors limiting hiring
There are a number of reasons contributing to employers finding it are to fill positions.
Murphy said health care sector is “uniquely impacted,” and has seen significant issues in hiring. A number of older health care employees left the field at the start of the pandemic. Then younger people trying to get into the field — as nurses or nursing assistants, for example — weren’t able to complete their clinical training because of COVID-19 restrictions at the time.
That has been a factor in the decrease in local job count in the education and health care sector. The health jobs are going unfilled.
For some lower-paying positions — such as in the restaurant or retail sectors — expanded federal unemployment benefits and stimulus checks may have provided some people with enough income to delay their push back into the workforce, Agee said.
The maximum regular Florida unemployment benefits are $275 a week, which is one of the lowest in the nation, and the maximum time period to receive them is 19 weeks for claims filed after Jan. 1, temporarily up from the previous 12 weeks because of the high unemployment rate during 2020.
But the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program provided an additional $300 supplementing the claimant’s weekly benefit amount. Additionally, as of now, there are fewer state requirements for people getting Florida unemployment benefits having to report on their searches for new jobs.
Judy Blanchard, CareerSource Brevard’s vice president for industry relations, said another issue is that some people are not returning to the workforce because their school-age children are taking their classes online and are home all days. Or they are hesitant to put their younger children in a day care center because of COVID-19 concerns.
Blanchard said others may be hesitant to return to the workforce because of their own personal safety.
“I think it’s a combination of many factors right now,” Blanchard said.
Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, Agee said many downtown retailers were forced to pare down staffing to just the owners and family members.
“So they’re working long hours. They don’t have that day off. They don’t have extra people to cover for them. And so it’s really, really difficult,” Agee said.
“They haven’t had the volume of traffic and sales to be able to go back and hire part-time people that might be filling in for them. And it’s hard on them. Retail’s tough. They’re on their feet all day. They’re trying to determine what inventory to purchase six months out, nine months out,” she said.
Agee said downtown Melbourne has experienced an uptick in retail sales and foot traffic the past few weeks, and the newly opened Hotel Melby should help boost foot traffic. She said stimulus checks and tax returns have increased shoppers’ discretionary income, and COVID-19 vaccinations are on the rise.
Statewide highs and lows
In March, Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate (3.3%) among Florida’s 67 counties; followed by St. Johns and Wakulla (3.6% each); and Alachua, Clay, Collier, Nassau, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Union (4.0% each).
Miami-Dade County had the highest unemployment rate (8.2%) in March, followed by Sumter (6.6%); and Citrus and Osceola (6.4% each); Putnam (6.3%); and Highlands (6.2%).
Statewide, all 10 industries lost jobs, year over year, with leisure and hospitality losing the most — 242,900 jobs, a 19.1% decrease. Leisure and hospitality was the biggest job loser in Brevard as well, down 3,000 jobs, a 10.5% decrease, according to CareerSource Brevard.
Johnston said another newly released report — the quarterly federal Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, also showed positive statewide trends for an economic recovery. That report showed:
The number of job openings rose to 380,000 in December, up 102,000 since June.
The number of job separations fell to 306,000 in December, down from 602,000 in April. This figures includes people who were discharged, laid off or quit their jobs.
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