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What Recovery? One in Ten Floridians Now Jobless

Unemployment in Florida topped 10 percent in May, hitting its highest level in nearly 34 years and dampening hopes that a recovery from the recession is just around the corner.

Despite the bad news, it was largely expected by economists, who have predicted for months that the jobless rate would get into double digits and that it likely won't peak in Florida until at least next year.

The Agency for Workforce Innovation said Friday that the percentage of people out of work in Florida last month was 10.2 percent, the highest rate since October of 1975.

That represents 943,000 out-of-work Floridians out of a labor force of 9.2 million.

The rate ticked up a half percentage point from April and is 4.4 percentage points higher than a year ago. It's also slightly above the national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent.

The state lost nearly a half million jobs – 417,000 – from May of 2008 to last month, continuing a string of year-over-year declines that began in August of 2007.

Economists had widely expected Florida's jobless rate to top 10 percent – though many had predicted it might not reach that mark until next year.

"It's not really surprising, since there were a lot of layoffs in the pipeline that were supposed to take place in May," said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature's Economic and Demographic Research Office.

Now, economists say the rate will likely stay at least as high as it is now well into 2010 – and some say even longer.

“We’re going to experience double-digit pain not just for a few months, but through the middle of 2011,” said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith.

Baker pointed out that in "WARN notices," submitted to the Agency for Workforce Innovation, which report impending job cuts, many layoffs already announced were scheduled to take place in May. Companies are required by law to submit such planned reductions to state employment officials.

Large layoffs are expected through the year – and the cuts are now rippling beyond the housing market, which hasn't seen any new building of note for a while. While the housing bust was originally the big unemployment driver, the pain is now starting to be felt in other industries as well. Still, those tied to housing, development and mortgages are among those facing the toughest time.

Just Friday, Wachovia Corp. announced that more than 130 Jacksonville-based employees of the company will be laid off in late July or early August. The company is being absorbed by Wells Fargo & Co, and the layoffs will be in Wachovia's mortgage division.

Despite the fact that state economists hadn't expected unemployment to reach 10 percent until the first quarter of next year, some still say the state will still begin inching out of the two year recession early next year as previously though. Baker suggested the forecasted rebound may remain on track, though she said the depth of unemployment will likely surpass earlier predictions.

Nearly half of Florida's 67 counties – 33 of them - now have double-digit unemployment.

Flagler County, in northeast Florida, has the highest jobless rate at 14.4 percent. The county's economy was heavily reliant on home building and had been one of the fastest growing counties in the state over the last decade. That boom is now a bust. Flagler County was also victimized by some manufacturing layoffs.

St. Lucie (13.3 percent), Indian River (13 percent), Hernando (12.7 percent), and Lee (12.4 percent) counties all had particularly high rates.

Agricultural Liberty County, in the Panhandle, was insulated from the pain, reporting only 5 percent unemployment last month. But the county's population is small. Monroe County – which is the Florida Keys – also was largely spared the pain, with unemployment at 6.2 percent.

The university counties of Alachua and Leon also were largely insulated with just 6.6 percent.

A report on Friday from the Commerce Department provided even more un-needed bad news.

Private sector earnings dropped everywhere in the first quarter, but the drop in paychecks was particularly big in Florida, which saw earnings drop 0.9 percent, fourth most in the nation, topped only by a 3.2 percent drop in Alasak and drops over a percentage point in North Dakota and Connecticut.

In Florida, the industries reporting the biggest declines are those shedding the biggest share of the workforce: construction – with wages down 5.75 percent – finance and insurance, off 4.4 percent, and manufacturing, down 3.7 percent.

The only Florida industries with rising wages were fishing and forestry (up 2.3 percent), utilities (up 3 percent) and transportation (.8 percent).

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