Unemployment Hits 11.8%
Despite brisk sales and the traditional holiday bump, Florida’s unemployment rate edged up to 11.8 percent in December, boosting claims made earlier in the week that the number of state’s jobless ranks could eclipse 12 percent before things start getting better.
The figure translates into 1.1 million out of work, about 232,000 more than a year earlier.
The number does not include those who have stopped looking for work and others who are working shorter hours or taking part-time work.
The state’s unemployment rate is 4.2 percentage points higher than December 2008 and 0.3 points higher than November, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported.
And the numbers are high in a broad range of sectors.
“We’re still in the throes of equal opportunity unemployment,” said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist. “Plumbers and professors, laborers and lawyers have lost their jobs in this recession.”
Searching for a silver lining, state labor officials say the pace of job losses is slowing, a sign economists say may be a sign that the pendulum is beginning to swing back toward recovery. But economists cautioned lawmakers that they may see jobless figures eclipse 12 percent before things start getting better.
“One factor near the top of the list is the tight credit conditions particularly on the commercial side,” said AWI chief economist Rebecca Rust. “Consumer spending is also off as people try to live within their means.”
On Wednesday, the Senate Ways & Means Committee heard sobering predictions from a pair of economists who predicted a slow recovery that would not proceed in earnest until 2011 as the state lags behind the national recovery that according to federal estimates has already begun.
University of Florida economist David Denslow said the state will lag behind as the nation pulls itself up from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
With more than 400,000 homes in foreclosure, tight commercial credit and the inability of potential newcomers to sell their existing homes in other states, Denslow said 2011 will be remembered for gradual improvements and not rapid rejuvenation.
“It’s only about 2012 that we finally get the sort of growth that Florida is used to,” Denslow said. “This is going to be a very slow recovery.”
Unlike more recent recessions, which Florida sailed through largely unscathed, the current slump has been exacerbated by a three-year housing boom that peaked in 2006 and has left the state with empty homes, fewer newcomers and skittish lenders, a combination that will make swift recovery unlikely.
December’s unemployment figures were a far cry from the 3.3 percent jobless rate in July 2006, the peak of the last boom cycle. Since then, the economy has shed nearly 800,000 jobs.