June 20, 2008

The region’s unemployment continued to rise in May as the housing slowdown pummeled the economy.

Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent in May, up from 4.8 percent in April and 3.7 percent a year ago, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation said Friday.

Martin County’s jobless rate rose to 5.6 percent from 5 percent in April, while St. Lucie County unemployment rose to 7.6 percent, third-highest among the state’s 67 counties.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent in May from 5 percent in April as the housing slowdown continued to suck jobs from the economy. Statewide, the construction industry shed 77,200 jobs over the past year, state officials said.

“Today’s jobs report provided little in the way of good news,” University of Central Florida economist Sean┬áSnaith┬ásaid. “Florida continues to languish under the weight of the housing bust, credit crunch and record energy prices, and it will likely be several months before we see stabilization in labor markets.”

Palm Beach County lost 5,300 jobs from May 2007 to May 2008, and the county’s construction industry cut 3,600 positions, state officials said.

The Treasure Coast lost 700 jobs. St. Lucie County has been hit hard by the combination of a slow construction industry and seasonal layoffs by farmers, said Gwenda Thompson, president of the Workforce Development Board of the Treasure Coast.

“Employers say they’ve got people knocking on their doors now,” Thompson said. “It is an employers’ market.”

Some see a bright side, however, as jobs are plentiful for college-educated workers in industries outside housing and banking.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for workers with bachelor’s degrees was 2.2 percent in May, said David Sprinkle of Ajilon Professional Staffing.

“That’s crazy low,” he said.

Sprinkle is encouraging workers who’ve lost their real estate and mortgage jobs to take classes or add skills that employers need.

“It’s not an across-the-board slowdown. It’s very segmented,” he said. “Real estate, construction, mortgage – those industries are still continuing to feed into rising unemployment.”