Area jobless rate up; among lowest

Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 9:45 p.m.

Florida's unemployment rate reached its highest point in more than three years in December, but the jobless rate in Alachua County remained among the lowest in the state.

The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in December, according to unemployment data released Friday. The rate was the state's highest since September 2004, when unemployment reached an identical level.

Alachua County's unemployment rate of 3.2 percent put it behind just three counties for the lowest rate in the state. But the county's rate jumped from the previous December, when it posted a 2.3 percent unemployment rate.

The state's economic troubles have led to freezes in university and government hiring, which are starting to affect the local employment picture, said Kim Tesch-Vaught, senior director of work force for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and FloridaWorks.

"Normally that has been our insolation - the fact that we have so much public sector employment," she said.

A downturn in the housing market is also affecting employment, but Alachua County continues to see steady growth in customer service, clerical and light industrial jobs, said Kristy O'Neal, Gainesville branch manager at the staffing firm Spherion Corporation.

"We're busier than ever here," she said.

The state's unemployment rate represents 441,000 jobless out of a labor force of more than 9.3 million. The state's rate was lower than the national average of 5 percent for December and the fourth lowest of the 10 most populous states.

The Gainesville metropolitan area saw its biggest decrease in construction, mining and natural resources jobs, a sector in which employment fell 6.2 percent from the previous year. About 400 jobs were lost in the sector over that period.

O'Neal said she has seen an increase of people in the construction field seeking jobs over the past four to five months. Job seekers have increasingly been reluctant to take jobs with long commutes because of high gas prices, she said.

Alachua County fared better than any other county in North Central Florida. Bradford and Union counties also posted unemployment rates lower than 4 percent, while Dixie County's rate of 5.5 percent was the highest in the region and 10th-highest in the state.

Tesch-Vaught said the database had 287 job openings in Alachua and Bradford counties as of Friday. She encouraged people seeking employment to register on the site.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gville

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