Flagler’s Unemployment Rate Falls to 11.9%, Its Lowest Level Since December 2008
FlaglerLive | October 19, 2012
Last Updated: 1:13 p.m.
Flagler County may have a little something to cheer about: its unemployment rate in September fell to 11.9 percent, from 12.3 percent the month before. That’s the lowest unemployment rate in the county since December 2008, when it was 11.8 percent.
Florida’s unemployment rate dipped down as well in September, to a seasonally adjusted 8.7 percent, from 8.8 percent the month before, as the state continued its slow but steady grind back to health, albeit with less job creation than expected, or needed: the state added just 800 jobs overall in September, leaving 808,000 Floridians officially jobless, and many more unemployed, but no longer counted among the jobless, because they’ve quit looking.
But in Flagler County, the unemployment rate fell even as the labor force grew by a very healthy 501 workers, breaking a trend dating back many months where unemployment drops had more to do with a shrinking labor force than with people actually finding work. Some 585 net jobs were added to Flagler County in September, reducing the ranks of the unemployed from 4,171 to 4,087. Flagler remains the county with the second-worst unemployment rate in the state. Rural Hardee County is first, with 14.2 percent. But Flagler is only fractionally worse than St. Lucie (11.7 percent) and Indian River (11.3 percent).
Monroe County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate (5 percent), followed by Walton County (5.5 percent), Okaloosa County (5.9 percent), and Franklin County (6.3 percent). Many of the counties with the lowest unemployment rates were those with relatively high proportions of government employment.
The unemployment rate in the nation fell to 7.8 percent last month, its lowest level since January 2009, the month Barack Obama was inaugurated president. The improving jobs picture in Florida is a political paradox for Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and his Republican Party: the governor is taking credit for the recovery, but the recovery is also helping Obama’s prospects of winning Florida–though those prospects dimmed considerably after his first debate encounter with Mitt Romney. Obama had been leading in Florida in most polls. He is now losing in most polls, by an average of 2.5 percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics. (See below.)
“I hear it out in the marketplace everywhere I go, sometimes it’s incremental, someone picking up one person,” or construction activity adding one or more people, says Barbara Revels, who chairs the county commission and the county’s Economic Opportunity Council. Inquiries from potential employers to Helga van Eckert. the county’s economic development director, have “ramped up dramatically” in the last few weeks, Revels said, and not from small businesses, but from businesses with the potential of adding 50, 100 or 200 jobs. They remain just inquiries, but they’re a measure of increased business activity.
None of this is diminishing the purpose of the county’s jobs council. “It’s the same purpose,” Revels said, “the purpose of trying to make sure that Flagler County, as we recover economically, that we don’t fall into what I call the one-company town, where we only have a data fulfillment center and construction. I want us to be diversified with jobs that will stay here when we have the next down, that we know will always happen.”
The nine-member council remains “very anxious and engaged,” Revels said, its diversified background itself a reflection of the business opportunities its members are seeking for the county as they meet with business owners. Meanwhile, as construction jobs return to the county, the trick is to ensure that the economy doesn’t fall back into a radical boom-bust cycle driven by that one industry, Revels said.
“Construction needs to be what every builder and supplier wants, and what every Realtor wants,” she said, “you want a normal, strong economy that doesn’t have peaks and valleys, where a plumber knows he can hire the five people he needs to hire and he can keep them on, where he’s not having to pay a lot of overtime or having to lay them off in a week. He wants some sort of consistency.” With that consistency comes the assurance that the work will still be there in the longer run, enabling workers to buy a car, buy the family some clothes, go out to restaurants more often, and trigger that trickle-down economic effect.
Van Eckert confirmed that the jobs outlook locally appears to be brightening, even if not radically so just yet.
“There has been an upswing on manufacturing,” van Eckert said in an interview early this afternoon, “and we have seen some interest in more office type of positions as well. A number of them are extremely competitive. They’re not just looking at Florida. They’re looking at Georgia and the South in general,” but others are looking at the sort of environment Flagler offers. The county’s target industries are in the 20 to 120 employee range at the moment.
While many businesses are waiting to see what the presidential election brings, van Eckert said, the local direction of the job market is not a fluke. “I think this is a trend, and I think we’re definitely on an upswing–a conservative one, granted, but base don the activity we’re seeing in our office as far as inquiries and planning, as far as what people want to do over the next year, there’s definitely an interest out there. We just have to position ourselves properly.”
Some highlights from the jobs report: Statewide, construction added 4,200 jobs, a 1.3 percent increase over August figures. Manufacturing added 1,800 jobs, trade, transportation and utilities added 5,000, leisure and hospitality added 4,600, and education services added 2,400.
In the loss column: Financial activities lost 2,500 jobs, professional and business services lost 8,500, led by a loss of 9,400 jobs in administrative and waste services (the job losses were slightly offset in that sector by a gain of 1,000 in professional and technical services), and government lost 2,700 jobs, most of it in state government jobs.
The full report is below.