From Depression to Mere Recession Flagler Unemployment Falls to 12.7%
FlaglerLive | March 30, 2012
It’s been almost four years since unemployment was that low in Flagler County: 12.7 percent in February, a sharp fall of almost a full percentage point from January’s 13.6 percent, and the 14.5 percent rate posted this time last year. The improvement is mirrored statewide.
The state’s unemployment rate dipped in February to 9.4 percent, the lowest since February 2009, the state labor agency reported Friday.
The rate was 0.2 percentage points lower than in January, and nearly a point and a half lower than a year ago.
The Department of Economic Opportunity said, however, there remained 869,000 people looking for work out of a state labor force of just under 9.3 million, and Florida’s rate remains well above the nation’s jobless rate of 8.3 percent.
While Flagler continues to struggle with the state’s highest out-of-work rate, two details suggest that local improvements may be even stronger than they appear: the county’s labor force grew by 600 people in February, reversing a trend that had seen the labor force decline in previous months. And the number of people employed improved markedly, by almost 800. In other words, the labor market’s figures are improving not because people are dropping out of the job rolls, or because they’re moving out, as figures suggested in previous months, but because new jobs are being created, drawing in more workers.
Statewide, too, the numbers in February were better than the previous months, when Florida experienced a net loss of jobs. The state had more than 10,000 more jobs in February than it did in January, and DEO said the state’s number of jobs is up 1 percent over a year earlier.
February was also a strong month for job creation nationally, and a number of economists have noted that it’s hard to separate how much of the job growth in any one location is rooted in the economic policies there versus just being part of the overall improving national economy.
Job growth in the nation as a whole, however, has outpaced the recovery in Florida. While Florida has seen 1 percent job growth over the year, the state is actually holding the country as a whole back – the nation has seen 1.5 percent job growth in the same time period.
Still, Gov. Rick Scott, who came into office promising to put creating jobs first, trumpeted the latest numbers.
“Florida’s drop in its unemployment rate and increase in private sector job creation continues to prove our state is definitely headed in the right direction,” Scott said in a statement. “The signing of my 2012 Jobs and Economic Development Package represents a significant step towards ensuring Florida is the best place in the nation to create, attract and retain jobs.”
DEO said that 346,000 people claimed benefits this past month, down from a peak of 735,000 collecting unemployment in February of 2010.
The slow economic recovery is starting to be noticed in state tax collections as well. Legislative economists reported this past week that corporate income tax collections are up and that general revenue collection was higher than expected in February. For the fiscal year, general-revenue collections are $74.6 million above earlier estimates, economists said.
Transportation, trade and utilities led the job growth in Florida in February, followed by the private education industry and the health care sector. Construction, however, typically a mainstay of the Florida economy, remains sluggish. The construction industry lost jobs year over year, with construction jobs down 5.1 percent from February of 2011.The drop in private construction jobs was due in part to cut backs in state government spending, DEO said. But the slow housing market remains the main culprit.
Monroe County, which is the Florida Keys, continued to have the state’s most robust employment picture, with only 5.4 percent unemployment. Walton and Okaloosa counties in the Panhandle, both of which have large numbers of military personnel, and Alachua County, home to the University of Florida, also had low unemployment rates, all 7 percent or lower. Despite Alachua County’s relatively low unemployment rate, Gainesville was one of the few metro areas that saw a net job loss in the month. Others were Pensacola and Port St. Lucie.
The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area created the most new jobs during the period, creating just under 21,000, a 1.9 percent increase.
–FlaglerLive and the News Service of Florida