SEBRING - The unemployment rate in Highlands and neighboring counties rose slightly in May.
The Highlands County rate blipped upward from 7 in April to 7.4 percent. In real numbers, 32 people added themselves to the labor force - 41,567 in May - 127 fewer workers were employed, and 159 were looking for jobs.
The seasonal uptick was attributed to the completion of the agricultural picking cycle, said Heartland Workforce Director of Information & Technology Alan Grimes.
Perhaps more importantly, Highlands County's average 2011 wages of $29,296 ranked 11th from the bottom of Florida 67th counties; Hardee was two slots closer to the bottom at $28,943; at $31,936, DeSoto ranked 24th. The list started with Holmes at $27,108 and finished with $46,428 in Miami-Dade.
"What affects the average wage is the percentage of occupational groups within a county, as well as what employees earn," said Grimes. "Hardee County had a top occupation of employment in the agricultural sector; 28.9 percent of the workforce earned 20.7 percent of the wages.
"Highlands major occupational employment is healthcare with 19.5 percent of the workforce earning 27.8 percent of the wages," Grimes said. "DeSoto County's mainstay was retail occupations at 19.2 percent of the workers and 18.3 percent of wages."
Statewide, good news was mixed with bad, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The number of jobs in Florida was up 122,500 compared to a year ago, and May 2013 was the 34th consecutive month with positive annual job growth after the state lost jobs for over three years.
Job-gaining sectors: trade, transportation, and utilities(+39,300 jobs, +2.6 percent); leisure and hospitality (+31,300 jobs, +3.2 percent); professional and business services(+23,100 jobs, +2.2 percent); private education and health services (+22,200 jobs, +2.0 percent); construction (+9,600 jobs, +2.8 percent); other services (+4,200 jobs, +1.3 percent); financial activities (+2,600 jobs, +0.5 percent); and information (+1,300 jobs, +1.0 percent).
Gainers were partially due to increases in motor vehicle and parts dealers, food services and drinking places, employment services, ambulatory health care services, construction of buildings, membership associations and organizations, real estate, and Internet service providers and data processing.
Losing sectors: government (-7,700 jobs, -0.7 percent); and manufacturing (-3,400 jobs, -1.1 percent). These industry declines were due to state government and computer and electronic parts manufacturing.
The University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research released a study that found consumer confidence among Floridians rose another two points in May 2013 to 81, the third straight month of increases. Floridians' expectations of personal finances a year from now also rose three points to 82. Both are indicators of an improving economy.
In May 2013, Monroe County (4.0 percent) had the state's lowest unemployment rate, followed by Walton County (4.1 percent), Okaloosa County (4.8 percent), Franklin County (5.2 percent), and Alachua County (5.3 percent). Many of the counties with the lowest unemployment rates were those with relatively high proportions of government. Seasonal tourism was also a contributing factor. Hardee County was Highlands' only neighbor ranking in the top half of employment numbers.
Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate (11.1 percent) in Florida in May 2013, followed by Flagler County (9.5 percent); St. Lucie County (9.3 percent); Putnam County (9.2 percent); and Dixie and Miami-Dade counties (8.7 percent each). Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate in the state due to seasonal declines in agriculture and long-term losses in state government jobs. Hendry was the only Florida county with a double-digit unemployment rate in May. Highlands was 21st from the bottom.
Twenty of the 22 metro areas in the state had over-the-year job gains in May 2013. The areas with the largest gains were Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (+33,800 jobs, +2.9 percent), Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (+16,800, +1.6 percent), and Jacksonville (+15,500 jobs, +2.6 percent). Lakeland-Winter Haven ranked sixth from the bottom at 7.7.
Only the Panama City-Lynn Haven-Panama City Beach metro area had an over-the-year job decline (-1,500 jobs, -2.0 percent).