News Column

Fla. Unemployment Falls Below Nat'l Rate

March 18, 2013

Jeff Harrington, Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Florida's unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent in January, marking the first time it has fallen below the national jobless rate in five years.

The rate was down slightly from a revised December rate of 7.9 percent and was 1.4 percentage points lower than the year-ago rate of 9.2 percent, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported Monday morning.

The state added 15,400 jobs from December to January and is up 127,500 jobs compared to a year ago. Trade, transportation and utilities has led the way in job growth over the year.

"Everything we do is geared toward job creation. Today we have more proof that it's working," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. "We have added more than 280,000 private-sector jobs over the last two years, and as we continue to focus on greater economic growth, we will see even more jobs created."

Both the state and national improvement in jobs comes with a big caveat: The percentage of the working age population in the labor force fell dramatically during the Great Recession and has yet to recover. In other words, untold thousands of Floridians who have stopped looking for work are now longer counted among the jobless. Any discouraged workers that resume their job hunt at some point are added back into the mix and potentially could drive up unemployment rates once more.

One measure of potential sidelined workers comes through other population estimates included in Monday's update. Florida's working-age, civilian population of 16-and-up has grown by 218,000 over the year but the labor force has only grown by 96,000 over the same period.

Tampa Bay's jobless rate ticked up slightly to 8 percent, up from a revised 7.9 percent in December. However the bay area continues to lead Florida by adding 31,200 jobs over the past year, more than any other Florida metro. The Orlando region was second with a gain of 20,200 jobs.

The national unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in January. It retracted further to 7.7 percent in February, but Florida lags behind in reporting numbers.

In fact, Florida had to wait two months for its January jobs report. That's because once a year the state adjusts its calculations to match employers' tax records on unemployment benefits.

The process, known as benchmarking, gives a more accurate read on job creation and unemployment. Typically, Florida releases monthly unemployment estimates based on a household survey.

Because of the catch-up, the state will release its next estimates for February unemployment in less than two weeks, March 29.

Source: (c)2013 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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