Fla. unemployment rate unchanged at 12 percent

Published: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's recession-battered economy began and ended 2010 the same way — with a 12 percent seasonally adjusted unemployment rate.

State labor officials Friday said December's jobless rate was 12 percent, the same as for January 2010 and also unchanged from November. That leaves Florida with more than 1.1 million unemployed workers.

It's also 2.6 percentage points above the 9.4 percent national figure for December and 0.3 percentage point higher than Florida's 11.7 percent rate in December 2009.

Despite that gloomy news, there was at least one hopeful sign in the year-end jobless report. Florida added 43,000 jobs since December 2009.

It's barely a glimmer, though, because that's not much growth — just 0.6 percent — in a labor force numbering 9.2 million, and the total jobs actually dropped by 17,900 from November to December.

On the positive side, December was the sixth straight month to show an increase, even a small one, in jobs compared to the same month in 2009, noted Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia R. Lorenzo.

"And with Gov. Rick Scott's emphasis on strategies to spark and support job creation, we anticipate continued improvement in our economy," Lorenzo said in a statement.

The new Republican governor, a multimillionaire who'd never before run for public office, last year campaigned on a promise to create 700,000 new jobs in seven years. That's besides about 1 million jobs state economists expect Florida to add as it rebounds from recession even if the state does nothing over that span. Florida has lost 876,500 jobs since 2007.

Scott said Florida's December unemployment rate "is not acceptable."

"The numbers reaffirm my commitment to getting Florida back to work, and prove that we must put job creation first by making Florida the best place to do business," Scott said in a statement.

His plans include cutting business taxes and government regulation and increasing emphasis and spending on economic development.

Nearly 30,000 retail jobs created in October, November and December for the holiday shopping period are not included because the statistics are seasonally adjusted, said agency economist Rebecca Rust. She said typically some of these jobs become permanent and those would be reflected in figures for January through March.

The state's unemployment rate hovered at or near 12 percent throughout the past year and set a modern record of 12.3 percent in March. That's the highest since the state began keeping jobless statistics in the 1970s.

Its lowest mark last year was 11.4 percent in June.

State economists expect Florida's unemployment rate to remain at or near 11.8 percent during first quarter of this year before it begins slowly dropping to 11 percent by the end of 2011.

Rust said new workers entering the labor market and those returning after being discouraged and ceasing to look for jobs have helped keep the unemployment rate high even as other economic indicators have improved.

Some businesses aren't hiring even though they are growing and their profits are up due to improved productivity, Rust said. She said other factors contributing to high unemployment are the inability of people to sell their homes so they can move to where jobs are available and a lack of proper skills for those jobs.

The sectors showing the strongest job growth in December were health services and private education, leisure and hospitality and trade, transportation and utilities.

Construction remains the biggest job-losing sector, shrinking by 20,200 jobs from December to December.

Liberty County in the Panhandle had the state's lowest jobless rate at 7.7 in December. It was followed by Monroe, 7.9 percent; Alachua, 8.2 percent; Leon and Okaloosa, 8.3 percent, and Wakulla, 8.4 percent. Most of those counties have high proportions of government employment including universities and military bases.

Flagler and Hendry counties posted the highest unemployment rate of 15.7 percent each. They were followed by Hernando, 14.5 percent; St. Lucie, 14.1 percent; Marion, 14 percent, and Indian River, 13.6 percent.

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