South Florida’s jobless rate improves — a little

The healing continues for South Florida’s job market, though a full recovery remains out of reach.

New job figures emphasized the shakiness of a rebound that began in 2010 but still hasn’t brought down unemployment to healthy levels. Employers in Broward and Miami-Dade reported about 23,000 more payroll positions in December than they had a year ago, the 18th straight month of job growth.

However, unemployment remained close to 9 percent in Broward and above 10 percent in Miami-Dade, more than double where they were during the boom days of 2005 and 2006. Statewide, unemployment inched down one-tenth of a percentage point to 9.9 percent, but it was enough to cross the psychological barrier of double digits for the first time since April 2009.

“This is further evidence Florida’s economy won’t come roaring back in the short term. But it does continue on track recovery,’’ said IHS Global Insight economist Karl Kuykendall.

Jobs at all pay levels remain in demand throughout South Florida. At the Loews Miami Beach, a recent job fair to fill 80 positions drew a crowd of 750, said Susana Fernandez, the resort’s director of human resources. Fernandez said she hired 40 people within 48 hours, a process that typically took weeks when the economy was in better shape.

“It used to be I’d run an ad and just keep running it,’’ she said.

As usual, the monthly jobs report contained mostly encouraging news for South Florida, mixed with a dash of troubling statistics.

Among the mixed bags:

Unemployment: Broward’s unemployment rate dropped from 8.9 percent to 8.6 percent as more residents listed themselves as employed. However, the decline came in part thanks to a declining labor pool — a discouraging trend that usually indicates people are giving up on their job hunt in the face of grim prospects.

In Miami-Dade, unemployment stayed level with November at 10.2 percent. But the underlying numbers looked better: both employment and the labor pool have been growing for the last two months.

The numbers are even more encouraging given that Miami-Dade is the only county in Florida to receive a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the state’s monthly jobs report. Broward and other smaller counties will receive their seasonally adjusted unemployment rate next week in a federal report on local hiring.

Job growth: Hiring is up across the board in Miami-Dade, with almost all industries employing more people than a year ago.

The financial industry, including insurance agencies and mortgage brokerages, is the biggest exception, accounting for 60 percent of the county’s job losses. Construction, once the top drag on hiring, has all but closed its gap with 2010’s dismal hiring levels and finished December down just 600 positions. It was the 49th straight month of job losses for the construction industry.

Tourism continues to drive Broward’s hiring rebound, which has been weaker than Miami-Dade’s. While Miami-Dade payrolls are up almost 2 percent over 2010, Broward saw less than 1 percent job growth. In Broward, six out of 10 new jobs come from the hospitality industry.

Hints of trouble: While employment is well above where it was at the end of 2010, seasonally adjusted figures show a loss of 3,700 jobs in South Florida since November. That could be a blip, or it could be the start of an extended decline.

Perhaps more troubling is a reversal in temporary hiring. Florida saw a drop of nearly 20,000 temporary workers, and Broward lost 5,000 since December 2010 — the biggest yearly drop in that category since October 2009. Miami-Dade continued to see growth in temporary hires, but the other numbers don’t bode well, said Moody’s economist Chris Lafakis.

“Businesses usually hire workers on a temporary basis before hiring full-time,’’ he said. The drop in temporary workers “means that businesses are not going to be adding significantly to full-time payrolls anytime soon.”

Economists predict a slow recovery on the jobs front this year, with hiring not picking up steam until 2013. December’s report did nothing to change those forecasts.

“I don’t think 2012 is going to be see a huge acceleration in job recovery,’’ said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. “I’m not sure what kind of spike can lead to recover in the short-term.”