Unemployment Down: Happy Days are Here Again?
Following more than four years of lengthening unemployment lines, Florida’s jobless rate fell in April to 12 percent and consumer confidence bumped up for the first time in months, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported Friday.
Not since February 2006 has Florida’s unemployment rate fallen from the previous month as the housing crisis, credit crunch and recession took its toll on the growth addicted state. The April figure was 0.3 percentage points lower than a revised March rate of 12.3 percent but still higher than the 9.7 percent rate posted in April 2009.
While the jobless figure brought the first good monthly news in four years, the state remains far from the everybody-gets-a-job times of a decade ago. And if marginally employed, discouraged, and part-time workers seeking full-time employment were included, the rate would rise to 20.3 percent, state workforce officials estimate.
The state’s chief labor economist said the news was welcome but still did not necessarily mean that start of a downward trend. With credit remaining tight and a large backlog of housing stock, Florida’s recovery may lag behind the national pace and may not necessary be a smooth transition.
“We really need to have at least four months in a row of lower rates to say that we have a growth trend,” said AWI chief economist Rebecca Rust.
Coinciding with the unemployment drop, consumer confidence in April improved from the previous month, according to a University of Florida report that tracks consumer attitude.
UF’s consumer confidence index spiked unexpectedly in April to 77, a six-point improvement from a year ago. Respondents are most optimistic on the national front, with a 10 point increase in confidence over the next 12 months and a five point boost in five year outlook. Equally telling, consumer’s willingness to buy big ticket items jumped 14 points.
“Today's numbers are consistent with being in the end game of this recession and the start of a new recovery,” said Sean Snaith, director of University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness. “However, we're clearly still on shaky legs."
Nationally, unemployment inched up in April to 9.9 percent, up from 9.7 in March and 1 percentage point higher than April 2009.
The last time Florida’s jobless rate dropped month-over-month was in February 2006, when it fell from 3.4 percent to 3.3 percent. With the state running on all cylinders prior to the 2007 crash, no one really noticed what would become the beginning of a four-year trend when it bumped up the next month.
Year, to year, the state remains in the negative territory, led by losses in construction jobs, which have fallen by 45,000 since April 2009. The restaurant and hospitality industry has lost 25,400 jobs over the year.
On the plus side, home sales continued to rebound and foreclosures remained lower as well. Hotel bookings were up in April, but the report was compiled in early April and did not include the impact of the April 20 explosion aboard the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon and subsequent oil spill.