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Florida Unemployment Rate Dips During April

Florida’s unemployment rate for April dipped to 9.6 percent, falling 0.2 percentage points from March but still hovering way above last year, the Agency for Workforce Innovation announced on Friday.

The figure, which translated into 855,000 jobless out of a workforce of 9.8 million, is 4.0 percentage points higher than April 2008 and still exceeds the national average of 8.9 percent.

The revised figure of 9.8 percent for March was the highest since 1976, when the state changed the methodology it uses to calculate unemployment.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, was optimistic but cautioned that one month does not a trend make.

“I am pleased to see that the unemployment rate for the Sunshine State is changing direction – going down, instead of up,” Crist said. “While we don't know if this lower rate is a significant sign of a turnaround in our economy, it is certainly good news for the people of Florida, especially those who are struggling during this challenging time.”

State labor officials said those unfortunate enough to be without work will at least have access to additional help, thanks in large part to federal stimulus dollars targeting unemployment benefits and workforce education that have begun flowing into the state.

“In addition to the agency’s wide variety of critical programs and services, we are currently administering $1.4 billion in federal stimulus funds through Florida’s unemployment compensation and workforce programs,” AWI Interim Director Cynthia Lorenzo said in a statement.

State officials took advantage of nearly $1 billion in unemployment funds when they agreed to boost weekly paychecks and extend payments for current recipients. In addition, the upcoming state budget includes nearly $400 million in workforce education and vocational rehabilitation funds.

Florida lawmakers, however, declined $440 million in federal stimulus money when they chose not to expand the state's unemployment pool to include part-timers and others.

Democrats argued that state lawmakers could take the federal money and then change the law back to what it was after the federal money ran out. Leaders of the Republican-led Legislature didn't bite, saying it would cost them $75 million a year to keep the program going.
The agency reported Friday that non-agricultural employment in April 2009 fell by 380,000 jobs since April 2008. The 7,451,000 employees in non-ag jobs represents a loss of 4.9 percent compared to April 2008. Nationally during the same period, the number of non-agricultural jobs fell by 3.8 percent.

The April 2009 job loss continues the trend of over-the-year declines that began in August 2007, AWI reported. A depressed housing and construction sector fueled much of the job loss,, but the agency said all major industries posted year-to-year losses.

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