Florida's unemployment rate improved a bit in December by falling to 8 percent, but the modest progress was tempered by numbers showing the state's employers also shed 15,300 jobs.
The jobless rate dipped by 0.1 percent from a month earlier to hit its lowest level since November 2008. Unemployment is now almost 2 percentage points lower than it was at the same time a year ago.
Gov. Rick Scott announced the news Friday, saying "the changes we are making to improve our state's business climate are helping Florida families pursue the American dream."
In Metro Orlando, the unemployment rate fell from 7.8 percent in November to 7.6 percent in December. The region gained 1,200 jobs over the month and almost 19,000 over the year -- an increase of 1.8 percent.
Of the state's 22 metro areas, only Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater added more jobs -- 21,000 -- than Orlando.
Florida's unemployment rate has now declined for 25 months in a row. Its monthly job growth has been positive in 14 of the last 18 months, and its year-over-year growth has been positive for 29 months in a row.
While the overall trend has been encouraging, December's report was not especially strong.
It showed a monthly decline of 15,300 jobs spread across several industries. That loss reduced the state's overall job growth in 2012 to 55,000, meaning employment in Florida rose by 0.7 percent -- half the national growth rate of 1.4 percent.
Most of the state's new jobs came from the hospitality and retail industries, according to Rollins College economist Bill Seyfried.
"So 80 percent of the net increase," he said, "were in two relatively low-paying sectors."
Seyfried said Metro Orlando's month-to-month increase was "modest" -- about 1,200 jobs -- and included a loss of 1,500 construction jobs.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said while the labor market is healing gradually, Friday's numbers are a "reminder of the difficult path" that is ahead.
"Growth this weak," Snaith said, "is simply insufficient to spark a robust recovery in the labor market."
The new report contained an apparent inconsistency that crops up from time to time: The jobless rate improved even though the number of jobs in the state fell.
The explanation lies in how the numbers are collected. The unemployment rate is derived from data collected in a survey of households. The monthly jobs count comes from a survey of businesses. The two surveys typically move in concert, but that is not always the case.
The Governor's Office downplayed December's job losses, focusing instead on the ground that has been gained since Scott took office. It emailed supportive comments from state business groups, including the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.
"The hospitality industry continues to advance Florida's economic recovery," said Carol Dover, the group's president and CEO. "And we are encouraged by the improved employment numbers under Governor Scott's leadership."
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