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Palm Beach County Unemployment Rate Drops to 4.5 Percent; Many Jobs Lost from COVID Have Been Recovered

West Palm Beach, Fla. (March 26, 2021) – Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate for February announced today is 4.5 percent -- below both the 6.6 percent national rate and Florida’s 5.0 percent rate for the sixth consecutive month, according to the latest monthly reports released today by CareerSource Palm Beach County and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (all numbers not seasonally adjusted).

Total nonagricultural employment in Palm Beach County is 613,400. The county’s labor force increased from 725,005 in Jan. to 727,766 in Feb. which means more people are working or looking for work.

Other improvements include:

  • 86 percent of the number of jobs in the county have been recovered since the period of highest unemployment in 2020 and the number of those working now is nearing the number of those working when the pandemic began. There is strong employment and economic growth being driven by extended federal relief, increased consumer spending, falling COVID cases and expanded vaccine rollout.
  • The continuing decline in the unemployment rate shows Palm Beach County is approaching pre-pandemic unemployment levels – levels at which many economists consider to be full employment. 
  • There are now nearly 2,200 job openings in Palm Beach County compared to less than 400 in April 2020.
  • The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County (BDB) said they expect to announce new projects with thousands of jobs in the pipeline over the next few months.  Projects recently announced include NewDay USA (one of the nation’s leading veteran mortgage lenders) creating 600 new jobs with an average salary of $90,000, FINFROCK (precast concrete manufacturer) creating more than 200 high-wage jobs over the next decade, and initiatives to attract major financial services companies to the county. 

“This is the strongest job market we’ve seen in a year – it’s a great time to search for a new job or a better one,” said Julia Dattolo, President and CEO of CareerSource Palm Beach County, the nonprofit organization chartered by the state to lead workforce development in Palm Beach County. 

There were job gains from the previous month in two of the top five key industry sectors. Among those key industry sectors in Palm Beach County, the Leisure and Hospitality sector had the most job gains -- +1,700 jobs.  Last week, hotel occupancy levels in Palm Beach County rose above 80 percent, a number not seen since early March 2020 and only 4 percent down from peak 2019 numbers. The top five are:

Professional and business services

  • Employment: 116,700 
  • Jobs lost Jan. to Feb.: -1,800
  • Jobs lost over year: -200

Trade/transportation/utilities

  • Employment: 112,300
  • Jobs lost Jan. to Feb.: -100
  • Jobs lost over year: -5,300

Education and health services

  • Employment: 101,100
  • Jobs lost Jan. to Feb.: -800
  • Jobs lost over year: -7,700

Leisure and hospitality

  • Employment: 81,400 
  • Jobs gained Jan. to Feb.: +1,700
  • Jobs lost over year: -14,500

Government

  • Employment: 60,900
  • Jobs gained Jan. to Feb.: +200
  • Jobs lost over year: -6,800

The county’s year-ago unemployment rate for February was 3.3 percent and the total number of jobs in the county dropped by 40,800 compared to a year ago. Outside of the Great Depression, the county’s record high unemployment rate reached 14.1 percent in May 2020.  The record-low unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in Dec. 2019.

COVID-19 Year in Palm Beach County: A Look at the Job Market 

Although 78,366 people in the area lost their jobs during the pandemic, Palm Beach County suffered less than the nation and most of the state.

Unemployment in March 2020 rose to 4.3 percent statewide and 4.4 percent in Palm Beach County. Two months later, Florida’s rate shot up to 14.3 percent and Palm Beach County reached a record high 14.1 percent (all numbers not seasonally adjusted). Every industry sector lost jobs, with the Leisure and Hospitality sector leading the way.

The outlook gradually improved. In September, Palm Beach County’s rate fell to less than half of the record peak to 7.0 percent and lower than the state and nation every month since then. For nearly a year, the county’s unemployment rate stayed below other major state markets, including Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and the Greater Orlando area. These areas with large numbers of theme parks, cruise ships, and international flight traffic have taken the longest time to recover.

Why did Palm Beach County do better than most? Ms. Dattolo points to three contributing factors:

  • Palm Beach County’s economy is more diversified than it was in the Great Recession. Professional, technical and financial sectors generally have had the most job gains month-to-month. During the Great Recession, the traditional “big three” -- hospitality, construction, and real estate – suffered the most job losses with Palm Beach County unemployment often faring worse than the state and nation.
  • COVID-19 began when Palm Beach County’s economy was strongest and towards the end of the 19-20 winter tourist season when seasonal layoffs normally occur. Job gains began to return as businesses reopened from COVID and began ramping up for the 20-21 season.
  • Businesses in the high-tax northeast and western parts of the nation struggling with high numbers of COVID cases decided to relocate to South Florida. The Business Development Board of Palm Beach County has been leading a successful ‘Wall Street South’ initiative focused on bringing more major financial service firms to the area.

CareerSource Palm Beach County Expanded Services During COVID-19

“We never closed during the pandemic -- we pivoted by providing virtual services such as job fairs, webinars, and webcasts as well as by phone, email, and social media outlets for those seeking our help,” Ms. Dattolo said. 

CareerSource Palm Beach County’s online platform used for its virtual job fairs was made available to the CareerSource Florida statewide network to support greater access and collaboration for hiring events at the time it was needed the most.

During the time libraries were closed due to the pandemic, CareerSource staff conducted several virtual training programs for city and county library staff, including reemployment assistance programs, conducting a job search/interview, and more. Training was followed by in-person job shadowing at the West Palm Beach career center. This partnership has expanded in-person job seeker services countywide without the need for leasing new space.

The Job Market Has Changed – and Will Continue to Change

The post-pandemic job market will not look the same as it did before COVID. Practices we have become accustomed to -- working, shopping, dining, and enjoying entertainment at home -- may have permanently changed the job market.

How the job market and economy fully recover depends on:

  • When customers feel confident enough to return to restaurants, bars, shops, theaters, sporting events, and vacation travel.
  • How many people will continue to work from home, leaving commercial office space vacant.
  • To what extent business travel recovers now that workers have become accustomed to attending meetings and collaborating using video platforms.
  • The pace of vaccination rollouts

No-Cost Virtual Job Fairs Coming Up!

CareerSource Palm Beach County has scheduled the following virtual job fairs: 

  • April 7 – Healthcare/Life Sciences/Pharmaceutical/Medical
  • May 19 – Technology/Telecom
  • June 23 – Advanced Manufacturing
  • July 21 – Protective Services/Security

More information about these events will be available on www.careersourcepbc.com.  CareerSource held 14 virtual hiring events since March 2020 to help connect hundreds of job seekers with more than 220 area employers. 

Looking for a New Career? Here’s Help! 

CareerSource offers classes and facilities for job searches, grants for job skills training for those who qualify, career development, and consulting – at no cost to you! During the past five program years, CareerSource Palm Beach County assisted more than 71,500 residents find employment ranging from entry-level to executive suite, with salaries from these jobs creating $1.4 billion in annual wages. CareerSource also awarded $12.2 million in grants to area businesses and employees for job training and educational assistance during that time.  More information is at www.careersourcepbc.com.

CareerSource also provides services to help rebuild and sustain businesses in today’s challenging marketplace. CareerSource absorbs the cost of most of these services including recruitment, assessments, and referrals of qualified job candidates; space and staff assistance for screening/interviewing candidates; and grants for training employees.  

Next monthly employment reports for Florida and Palm Beach County:  State and local employment reports for March 2021 are scheduled for release on April 16. 

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Note to editors: You are invited to interview a CareerSource spokesperson on local employment and economic trends before 3:30 p.m. today. Please call 561.340.1061 ext. 2229 for scheduling.