Flagler County’s unemployment rate in December fell to a 12-month low of 3.8 percent, matching the rate in December 2020, though last month’s number was backed up by far stronger data than a year ago, when the county and the country were emerging from pandemic job losses: Flagler has now made up the jobs lost during the pandemic, and exceeded the pre-pandemic level, even though for all of 2021, unemployment in the county averaged 4.9 percent.
A year ago, the 3.8 percent rate was driven mostly by a huge erosion in the workforce, which had fallen to 45,890, with 44,155 people holding jobs and 1,735 people unemployed. By last month, the workforce had regained 3,000 people, and was just 386 workers short of the record, reached in March 2020, of 49,165. That record is poised to fall this year. Before the pandemic, Flagler’s unemployment rate had reached a low of 3.5 percent in April 2019.
In December, 46,902 Flagler County residents held jobs–another bright total, as it is less than 100 workers short of the record high of 46,998 attained in December 2019. More significantly, it is several hundred workers more than the 46,560 people employed in February 2020, when the pandemic began affecting the economy. The job holders live in Flagler, but they may be working anywhere in the state, or even remotely: an employed person is categorized as employed the moment that worker has logged a single hour in the period surveyed by the labor department. Still, Flagler residents are benefiting from strong employment conditions in Volusia and St. Johns counties, the latter posting a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, best in the state, and in the world, bested only by Switzerland (2.4 percent) and the Czech Republic (2.3 percent).
A caveat: Flagler county’s population has continued to grow, but the fact that the workforce remains just below where it was in 2020 suggests that new arrivals are still older people who are no longer in the workforce.
Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December was 4.4 percent, a decline of a decimal point from November. Employment in the state was just shy of 9 million, an increase of 11,700 jobs over the month. The state gained 479,300 jobs over the year, an increase of 5.6 percent. Nationally, the number of jobs rose 4.5 percent over the year. Florida still has one of the stingiest, most punishing unemployment systems in the nation.
Maximum unemployment benefits remain at $275 a week, lowest in the country. The Florida Senate approved raising the benefits by $100 a week and extend the benefit period, also among the stingiest in the nation. But Gov. Ron DeSantis opposed the improvement, and the House did not follow the Senate’s lead. The state’s unemployment rate remains artificially low since it reflects only those workers willing to abide by the state’s onerous rules if they want to qualify for benefits.
Those who do not follow the rules or drop out of the workforce are not counted among the unemployed. The federal government tracks those unemployed and underemployed in its so-called U-6, or alternative, unemployment rate. That rate was 10.1 percent in Florida through the third quarter of 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics–more than twice as high as the official unemployment rate.
On the other hand, Florida posted the second-best increase in average weekly wages between June 2020 and June 2021, with average wages rising $80 a week, to 1,113, a 7.7 percent increase bested only by Washington State (8.3 percent) and Vermont (10.6 percent), according to BLS.
Tennessee posted a 7.6 percent increase and California 7.5 percent, third- and fourth-best in the nation. Those figures include government-employment wages.
The Florida wage increases are not the result of sudden magnanimity among employers, but reflect employers’ anticipation of the required step increase, year by year, of the minimum wage to $15 by 2026. Voters approved the increase in a constitutional amendment in 2020. Lawmakers at the Florida Legislature are working on a bill that would prohibit such amendments from going before voters in the future.
The full unemployment report is below.