Florida Unemployment Dips
Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to 10.7 percent in August but remains significantly higher than a year ago, according to figures released Friday by the Agency for Workforce Innovation.
Last month’s jobless rate fell 0.1 percentage points from a revised figure for July, which at 10.8 percent was the highest recorded level since October 1975.
The August rate translates into 984,000 job seekers among the state’s workforce of 9.2 million. But the rate at least did not go up. Following the release, an optimistic Gov. Charlie Crist saw the figures as a positive sign that the economic downturn in bottoming out.
“I am encouraged that Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped slightly.” Crist said. “However, we must not forget that many Floridians are struggling as our economy recovers. For that reason, I continue to focus on the economy of our state by strengthening our business friendly environment.”
Professional services including employment agencies, trade and construction employment continued to lead the list of dismal sectors, but the economic downturn that began more than a year ago has affected all job sectors with the exception of government employment and health care.
Counties hardest hit by the jobless slump remain those that experienced skyrocketing property values and a subsequent construction boom, and then bust. Flagler (15.7 percent), Indian River (15.2 percent), St. Lucie (14.7 percent) and Lee (13.5 percent) counties were among those with the highest jobless rates last month, the AWI figures showed.
Meanwhile, areas with larger percentage of government employees (Liberty County at 5.6 percent) or those that were popular summer tourist spots (Walton County at 6.5 percent) had the lowest rates in the state.
A panel of state economists meeting last month estimated that Florida’s economic turn around won’t begin until early next year. Before that, however, unemployment may top out at around 11 percent.
Penny Chandler, of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, said the region is seeing signs of life as the phones have started ringing from companies looking again for business opportunities in the region.
The region experienced accelerated growth from 2004 to 2007, when construction employment dominated the local job mix. After nearly two years of downward indictors, businesses are now again looking to re-hire or expand.
“We do see things picking up,” Chandler said.
The Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida used the release Friday to call for more aggressive moves toward offshore drilling. The organization, which represents about 2,500 Florida companies, says ending a moratorium on offshore drilling would especially benefit the construction sector, which has lost more than 62,000 jobs over the past year.
“The potential long-lasting economic benefits of a Florida energy industry are more urgently needed than ever,” said Ron Lay, Chairman of ABC of Florida. “Energy exploration has the potential to refuel Florida’s economic engine and create badly needed jobs, and it is critical that our leaders work to seize this opportunity to help put Floridians back to work.” Citing studies by Orlando-based economists Fishkind & Associates, the group said offshore energy exploration in Florida waters could conservatively boost Florida’s economy by more than $7 billion a year and create more than 40,000 jobs.
Crist’s Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio, said through his campaign that the figures are nothing to cheer about; pointing out the state was running at near full employment when Crist took office in 2006. Since then, the numbers have gotten worse despite a huge federal stimulus package supported by Crist.
"When Governor Crist joined forces with President Obama to ram the stimulus through Congress, he said it was 'all about jobs, jobs, jobs,'" said Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos. "In reality, it's been about growing the deficit and imposing a fiscal anchor that is weighing down our state and country's economic recovery."