Pink Slip Networking In the Press

SunSentinal.comFlorida's jobless rate hits 33-year high, outpaces the nation

Statewide, 10.6% unemployment; Palm Beach and Miami-Dade rates even higher

By Marcia Heroux Pounds Staff Writer - South Florida SunSentinal - 10:25 AM EDT, July 17, 2009

Florida residents are losing jobs at a steeper pace than Americans as a whole.

About 20,000 jobs were lost in June and nearly 400,000 jobs over the past 12 months, the state work force agency reported on Friday.

The state's unemployment rate rose to 10.6 percent in June, up from the revised May rate of 10.3 percent, and 4.6 percentage points higher than in June 2008.

Florida's professionals and others in business are suffering the bulk of the job losses, as they have been since March. At a job event this week in Fort Lauderdale, those looking for work included financial analysts, an information technology executive, an engineer and an administrative assistant.

About 90,100 white-collar jobs were lost over the 12 months, followed by construction job losses of 84,800.

In June, the state also reported that temporary workers, such as those with clerical, warehouse and project jobs, were losing jobs -- the opposite of what economists look to happen in a recovery.

"Clerical positions are still either in a freeze mode or let-go mode," said Cathie LeBlanc, Boca Raton branch manager for staffing company Spherion Corp. "Once we see temps start to increase on the administrative side, we'll see an indication the economy is on its way up."

LeBlanc said employers have hired temps in recent months, but laid them off again when work slowed.

In full-time jobs, "We're seeing higher-level people willing to take lower-skilled positions right now," she said.

Ben Theisen, 60, has been a senior executive in information technology in South Florida. He would take a job as a project manager if he could find one.

Employers are "looking for guys out of college," he said while attending a Pink Slip Networking event last week.

June's jobless rate is at the highest level since October 1975. South Florida lost more jobs in June than any metropolitan region in the state.

Both recessions began with an oil crisis, but financial and credit conditions are driving today's huge job losses and a climbing unemployment rate. Unemployment reached a high of 11.9 percent in the mid-1970s recession.

"We're not too far off from those conditions," said Rebecca Rust, chief economist for Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation, which tracks unemployment in the state.

In June, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties' jobless rates rose above 11 percent while Broward County's reached 9.4 percent. The state's rate of 10.6 percent, seasonally adjusted, represents 970,000 people out of work in Florida.

Florida's jobless rate is higher than the nation's 9.5 percent.

The state is second only to California in job loss. Nationwide, unemployment has reached double digits in 16 states. Michigan has the worst jobless rate in the nation, at 15.2 percent.

On Friday, Florida Economic Estimating Conference was meeting to revise the state's unemployment forecast. The group had forecast an unemployment rate high of 10.2 percent for the first quarter of 2010. The state passed that level in May.

University of Florida economist David Denslow expects unemployment to peak nationwide at 10.5 percent or 11 percent, while it could peak in Florida at 11.5 percent. "That's the maximum it will hit before it starts going back down," he said.

In the two most recent recessions, unemployment peaked six or nine months after the recession ended.

"If we're lucky it will end [in Florida] in the fourth quarter of 2009. That means unemployment will peak around the summer of 2010," Denslow said.

Workers laid off in June join thousands of others in South Florida who continue to look for jobs. It can take a professional worker six months to nine months to find a job in today's job market, said Mason Jackson, chief executive of Workforce One, Broward's employment agency.

That creates stiff competition for jobs, said frustrated job hunters at the Pink Slip Networking event last week.

Companies are looking for "exact matches" for job descriptions, limiting the possibilities for people who may have transferable skills, said Deb Greenhouse, 42, a finance professional who lost her job in April with Macy's South Florida operation.

"We keep each other motivated," said Barry Robinson, 41, who also worked for Macy's in finance for more than three years. The former department store chain employees keep in touch by e-mail, informing each other of possible jobs and networking events.

"Networking is definitely the way to go in this job market. I always tell people, 'You want your name and face out there,' " said Jimmy Tam, a senior corporate recruiter for Ryder, a transportation company based in Miami, who was at the event.

Ryder is hiring for nationwide positions in fields including information technology, assets manager, vehicle sales and audit, Tam said.

The trend of job losses in Florida began in August 2007, beginning with construction job losses, but now has spread to all major industries.

Still, there were 300,000 jobs posted on EmployFlorida.com, the state's online job board, economist Rust pointed out.

"It shows jobs are turning in the labor market. Even though jobs have declined, there are needs for replacement."

Industries adding jobs continue to be health care services, particularly nursing and residential care, and private education.

When road and bridge building fueled by the Obama administration's stimulus package begins, more hiring will take place in August and September, she said.

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