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Tampa Bay unemployment drops to 4.1 percent

Tampa Bay's job market is flexing a little muscle after a moribund couple of months.

The region's unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent in March — down a half percent from February and from 4.5 percent a year ago — as its 44,000 job openings led all metros statewide in job demand.

Florida's economic pulse did not beat as quickly.

The state's unemployment rate dropped from 5 to 4.8 percent in March compared to February but is down just a tenth of a percent from a year ago, according to figures released by the state Friday. The state added only 6,200 jobs from February to March but is up 146,100 for the year, state figures show. The state's unemployment rate still trails the nation's, which stood at 4.5 percent in March.

Tampa Bay industries with the most job growth skewed toward higher-paying industries. The professional and business services sector led by adding 10,700 new jobs, followed by construction with 8,600 new jobs and education and health services with 7,100 new jobs. (The state's jobless rate is seasonally adjusted, while Tampa Bay's is not.)

"The Tampa area also continues to rank first in the state in demand for high-skill, high-wage STEM occupations with 14,301 openings in March, Gov. Rick Scott's office said. STEM represents jobs in which science, technology, engineering and mathematics are key elements.

Local leaders were quick to tout the robust numbers.

"This is great news for Tampa and the region," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "Our thriving job market and economy is just another indicator of Tampa's reemergence as a national and international player for both small and large businesses to relocate."

Compared to the state's other 24 metro areas, Tampa Bay's figures, while good, were not close to the head of the pack. Tampa's unemployment rate ranked in a tie for th with Jacksonville.

"The Tampa area has more than 44,000 job openings, the highest in the state, which means more opportunities are available for Floridians to provide for their families and live their dreams," Scott said in a statement. "Tampa businesses also created nearly 42,000 new jobs over the year, which is great news."

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties had Tampa Bay's lowest jobless rates in March at 3.9 percent each, tied for the 13th lowest among Florida's 67 counties. That was down from 4.3 percent a year ago for both counties. Pinellas' February rate was 4.3 percent, while Hillsborough's was a tenth of a percent higher.

Pasco's jobless rate was 4.6 percent, down half a point from February and a year ago.

Hernando's jobless rate was tied for the fifth highest in Florida at 5.4 percent, though that's down from 6 percent in February and year over year. Citrus has the third highest rate at 5.9 percent, though that is down considerably from February's 6.8 percent and last year's 6.6 percent.

PNC economist Mekael Teshome said the healthy Tampa Bay and Florida numbers bode well for income growth, which he said often lags in Florida even as job numbers climb. Part of the reason for that is that the workforce, pushed by population growth, also is expanding.

"Overall, it's a good report," Teshome said. "The overall pace of jobs growth continues to be strong. What's really encouraging is seeing the unemployment rate dip down. We need that for income growth. The Florida economy has a lot of momentum right now."

"It's a double-edged sword," he added. "Having strong labor force growth is actually a sign of confidence in the local economy. The down side to it is that with it comes a lot of workers competing for the same jobs. Then wages really don't rise as much."

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] Follow @Times_Levesque.

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