Jobless rate in Florida at 30-year low


Published: Saturday, January 21, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 20, 2006 at 11:15 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida's unemployment rate dropped to 3.3 percent in December, the lowest in 30 years, and it posted the fastest job growth among the nation's 10 most populous states last year, the state's labor agency announced on Friday.
The December jobless rate, down from 3.6 percent in November, also is lowest among those states. It is 1.6 percentage points below the national rate of 4.9 percent, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation reported.
"I wouldn't trade our economy for any other state's," said Rick McAllister, president of the Florida Retail Federation. "We seem to be the steady Eddie."
Florida added 248,100 jobs during 2005, bringing total employment to 8,476,000 and leaving only 289,000 people out of work. More than half of the growth - 130,000 jobs - occurred in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg areas.
"The business climate is such that companies are finding it easy to expand and create jobs," said Workforce Innovation spokesman Warren May.
He cited Florida's low taxes, favorable regulatory climate and aggressive state and local economic development agencies.
The numbers can be deceptive, however, because they don't include the chronically unemployed who have dropped out of the job market, and many of the new jobs are low-paying and lack benefits, said Florida AFL-CIO spokesman Rich Templin.
"The unemployment rate is given a little too much primacy as an indicator of overall economic health," Templin said. "All of our data seem to indicate the quality is not there."
One of the fastest growing sectors is professional and business services, which includes temporary job services, adding 77,900 new position last year, an increase of 5.9 percent.
Leisure and hospitality, which can include everything from high-end restaurants and hotels to low-paying fast food eateries, is another high-growth area, up by 35,700 jobs, or 4.1 percent.
Construction added 25,100 jobs in 2005, a 4.9 percent increase spurred by the need to repair and replace buildings damaged or destroyed by a spate of hurricanes that stuck Florida during the past two years.
May said the construction numbers probably could be even higher but contractors have been having a hard time finding enough workers to meet the demand.
The 2005 numbers for other segments: trade, transportation and utilities, up by 36,900 jobs, or 2.4 percent; education and health services, up by 32,100 jobs, or 3.4 percent; financial activities, up by 11,300 jobs, or 2 percent; manufacturing, up by 5,100 jobs, or 1.3 percent; government, up by 21,800 jobs, or 2 percent, information, up 700 jobs, or 0.4 percent, and natural resources and mining, down 300 jobs, or 4.9 percent.
Within the government sector, state employment dropped by 100 jobs. While information was up slightly overall, wired communications carriers lost 1,800 jobs.
Tiny Wakulla County in the Panhandle had the state's lowest jobless rate at 2.1 percent followed by Alachua County at 2.2 percent and Gilchrist, Lee, Okaloosa, Sarasota and Walton counties at 2.3 percent. Hendry was the only Florida county to exceed the national rate at 5.3 percent.
Job growth has occurred even as Florida increased its minimum wage in May. Some critics, including McAllister, had predicted increasing from the federal rate of $5.15 per hour to $6.15 would depress employment. The minimum increased again Jan. 1 to $6.40.
"We were talking about the long run," McAllister said. "It's way too early to tell."
May said the low unemployment rate itself should drive wages up due to the law of supply and demand.

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