Gainesville-area jobless rate down to 5.6%


Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

Unemployment in Florida continued to drop in February, slipping to 7.7 percent, its lowest rate in more than four years, giving some support to Gov. Rick Scott's claim that his job creation efforts are working.

Scott also announced Friday that just less than 300,000 private sector jobs have been created in Florida since December 2010, the month before he took office.

The 7.7 percent jobless rate is the lowest since October 2008 and is well below the 9 percent rate of a year ago.

The February rate for the Gainesville Metropolitan Statistical Area — which is made up of Alachua and Gilchrist counties — dropped to 5.6 percent from 6.1 percent in January and was down, as well, from 7.0 percent in February 2012. Estimates from a household survey showed 134,642 people with jobs, an increase of 2,889 from January, while the number of unemployed was down 590 to 8,027.

Local numbers are not seasonally adjusted and can reflect seasonal fluctuations because of holidays and school-year schedules, among other reasons.

The rate for the Gainesville MSA was the second-lowest of 23 metro areas, behind only Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin at 5.5 percent.

Florida's rate is the same as the national 7.7 percent unemployment figure, a key psychological marker of how the state is doing.

Earlier this month, state officials reported that Florida unemployment dipped in January to 7.8 percent, below last month's national rate of 7.9 percent. The Florida figure, however, has since been adjusted upward to show that the actual rate in January was 7.9 percent, the same as the nation as a whole.

Still, Scott has pointed to the rebounding labor picture as proof that "it's working," his new catchphrase as he heads into next year's re-election campaign, a play on his 2010 campaign motto "Let's Get to Work."

"Our efforts to reduce taxes, pay down state debt and grow the economy, demonstrate our success in growing jobs for Florida families," Scott said in a statement Friday.

The statement noted that the state's jobless rate has dropped 3.4 percentage points since Scott took office, making clear what the governor's main election-year talking point will be.

Scott went to Amcor Rigid Plastics USA in Orlando on Friday to tout the new employment numbers. The plastics company opened a new manufacturing facility in January, hiring 29 employees. Scott also has made easing tax requirements for manufacturers one of his top priorities in the current legislative session.

The unemployment rate in the state has gone down year over year, even as the labor force has grown, according to Department of Economic Opportunity statistics, meaning that the drop is mostly attributable to actual job growth, not people leaving the labor force. DEO counted the non-seasonal workforce last month at 9.35 million, up from 9.27 million a year ago.

Florida's seasonally adjusted total non-farm employment was 7,479,700 in February, an increase of about 7,800 over January and up 128,100 from a year ago — a 1.7 percent increase, DEO said. Nationally, the number of jobs increased a little less, 1.5 percent.

DEO also noted that home sales in the state have picked up and pointed to a Florida Realtors figure showing the backlog of houses on the market has dropped by 32 percent in the past year. That's even as prices have started back up, increasing nearly 13 percent in the past year.

David Royce, with The News Service of Florida, contributed to this report.

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