Florida Unemployment Reaches 12 Percent

December 18, 2010

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55 counties have double-digit unemployment rates
BY: GRAY ROHRER | POSTED: DECEMBER 18, 2010 4:05 AM

Florida’s unemployment outlook remains bleak, with the state Agency for Workforce Innovation report released Friday showing a jobless rate of 12 percent for November.

The number is up slightly from October’s 11.9 percent. There are 1.1 million Floridians out of work, and nonagricultural employment stands at 7.2 million people, with 300 jobs added in November.

The unemployment figures are only part of Florida’s jobs problem. If discouraged and underemployed workers — those who have given up looking for work or are working in part-time jobs involuntarily — are counted in the jobless numbers, Florida’s unemployment rate jumps to 20 percent.

After unemployment peaked at 12.3 percent in March, the rate fell to 11.4 percent in June before ticking upward. While statistics for November reflected the fifth straight month of job gains after three years of job losses, the unemployment rate has increased due to new and newly encouraged workers entering the work force. New entrants and those re-entering the work force make up 32.7 percent of the unemployed.

“Even though it’s pretty stable, relatively flat, it’s going in the right direction,” said AWI chief economist Rebecca Rust.

Despite the dismal numbers, out-of-work Floridians did receive some good news this week when a tax bill that included the extension of 13 months of unemployment benefits passed both chambers of Congress. President Barack Obama signed the bill Friday, which means thousands of Floridians will be able to receive unemployment benefits that had run out earlier this month.

Florida’s extended benefits program, that pays up to 20 weeks of extra benefits to unemployed workers who have run through their 79 weeks of regular state and federal benefits, ended on Dec. 4. Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order Friday to enact another extended benefits period, enabling AWI to begin paying eligible unemployed workers next week.

“As with previous federal extensions, we have been closely monitoring this legislation and working with the hovernor’s office to ensure Floridians entitled to those benefits receive them as quickly as possible,” said AWI director Cynthia Lorenzo.

Florida business leaders praised the compromise tax deal.

“It does provide some predictability for employers. That is very positive, to prevent additional Floridians from losing their jobs,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Edie Ousley.

Gov.-elect Rick Scott called the job numbers “inexcusable,” and reiterated his focus on the economy.

“In order to turn Florida’s economy around, we need to put jobs first and make sure all government expenditures are justified. As the ‘Jobs Governor,’ I have already begun meeting with Floridians to identify opportunities for job growth, and I am committed to getting Florida back to work by making Florida the best place to do business,” Scott said.

But if Scott is counting on a turnaround in the unemployment rate, it will almost certainly be led by private-sector job creation. AWI’s report showed that counties with high amounts of government jobs like Liberty (8.1 percent), Leon (8.7 percent), Alachua (8.6 percent) and Wakulla (8.7 percent), had some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Overall, 55 out of Florida’s 67 counties posted double-digit unemployment in November.

Scott has consistently repeated his intention to cut state government, but losses in federal and local government jobs make up most of the 7,900 government-sector jobs lost in Florida in the last 12 months.

Still, business groups say they believe in Scott’s economic plan and are prepared to take on more hiring to meet his goal of 700,000 jobs created in seven years.

“The unemployment numbers are certainly discouraging. We do have a great sense of hope that Gov.-elect Scott and his pro-jobs agenda, which matches up nicely with the Chamber’s pro-jobs approach, will be getting Floridians back to work,” Ousley said.

Ousley pointed to a recent Chamber study which showed that Florida could create 143,000 jobs by increasing its exports and investing in infrastructure improvements to make itself more amenable to international trade as one way the private sector could contribute to Scott’s goal.

Recent state trends continued in November with the health care industry adding jobs compared to a year ago and the construction industry shedding jobs over the course of the last 12 months. Private education and health services have added 28,900 jobs since November 2009. The construction industry has lost 12,400 in the last 12 months, and 339,000 jobs — nearly 50 percent of their workers — since Florida jobs were at their peak in 2007.

The November unemployment numbers were seasonally adjusted, but analysts say strong retail-sector hiring during the holidays may linger into 2011. Seasonal hiring in December is expected to be between 30,000 and 40,000 new jobs, some of which could become permanent.

“We are having positive reports of retail employee hiring and holiday sales,” Rust said.

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