Unemployment Now 11%
Florida’s unemployment inched up in September to 11 percent as the state continues to be dogged by a sluggish economy that shed 360,000 jobs from a year ago.
The rate, the highest since October 1975, was 4.3 percentage points higher than in September 2008 and 0.2 points higher than a revised August figure of 10.8 percent, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported on Friday.
Florida, which typically lags behind the nation during recovery, is likely to experience higher rates before the worst is over, an AWI economist cautioned Friday. The state’s economic picture overall may be brightening, however, as other state and national economic indicators show a slow recovery may have already begun.
For example, the number of mass layoff notices received by AWI fell from a peak of 36 notices in March to seven notices received in September. Last week, the agency received no major layoff notices, the first time since the week of September 29, 2008.
“The recovery is coming slowly, but it is coming,” said AWI Director Cynthia Lorenzo. “The latest unemployment figures confirm that the economic downturn continues to impact a significant number of Floridians and businesses. However, a reduction in employers announcing closings or large-scale layoffs is a positive sign of Florida’s growing economic stability.”
Florida’s total non-agricultural workforce fell to 7.2 million in September, a 4.7-percent drop over the past year. Losses in construction, transportation, professional and business services sectors accounted for two-thirds of the loss, which translates into more than 1 million jobless.
Health care remains the only growth sector in the economy, said AWI chief economist Rebecca Rust.
The state rate was 1.2 percentage points higher than the national average of 9.8 percent.
State economists had estimated earlier this year that Florida’s jobless rate would peak somewhere around 11 percent before slowly returning to more moderate levels. Rust said that figure may have to be revised upward when state economists next meet Nov. 3 to update the state’s economic picture.
Don Winstead, who has been coordinating state efforts to spend federal economic stimulus money, said economists have stated that the unemployment trend tends to be a lagging indicator of how the economy is actually doing at present time, but noted that the state needed to continue working to bring Florida out of the hole.
“I think it just underscores how important it is that we stay the course and press on and do everything we can to help people,” Winstead said.
But stimulus funds alone will not pull the state and nation out of its economic stupor, said Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida.
Snaith said the unemployment rate underscores the existing economic challenges, despite news that Wall Street has posted impressive gains in recent months. And though the state is reaching the bottom, it may not have hit it yet.
“The Dow over 10,000 and the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ surge in spending might be giving us a false hope for a strong recovery,” Snaith said. “When the celebrations die down, the reality of continuing double-digital unemployment will set in, and things are going to slow down again.”
The highest unemployment rate in the state was in Palm Coast, which is experiencing a 16.2 percent jobless rate. Vero Beach and Port St. Lucie followed at 15.2 percent and 14.1 percent respectively.
Fort Walton Beach, Gainesville and Tallahassee – regions known for government, education and military employment - had the lowest unemployment rates, all less than 7.5 percent.