Flagler County’s unemployment rate in April fell to 2.6 percent, the lowest level ever recorded in Florida Department of Economic Opportunity figures going back to 1990. The county’s labor force and the number of people holding jobs are also at record highs.
The county’s unemployment level has fallen from 13.7 percent two years ago, and from 3.9 percent at the beginning of the year. Before the pandemic, Flagler’s unemployment hit a low of 3.4 in December 2019 and 3.2 percent in February 2020, the month when the Covid virus was beginning to spread rapidly in the country. In the two previous booms on record, Flagler’s unemployment rate had fallen to a low of 3.6 percent in December 2005, at the crest of the housing boom, before starting to rise the following year. In the late 1990s boom, the county’s unemployment hit 2.7 percent in September 1999 (when 486 people were unemployed), until now the lowest rate recorded.
The lower rate in April was achieved despite a slight increase in the labor force, which also broke a new record. Flagler’s labor force is now 49,199, breaking the previous record, set last October, of 49,000. The labor force points to several economic factors–the willingness of people who had dropped out of the labor force to rejoin it, the attractiveness of the county to working-age people, and the continuing increase in the county’s population. While the population increase has been unquestionable over the last few years, it has been heavily skewed toward older retirees.
So between the school-aged and the county’s retirees, the workforce remains only 40 percent or so of the total population. But it is larger by some 1,300 workers, compared to a year ago.
The number of unemployed residents in Flagler fell to 1,278 in April, down 70 from a month earlier and down over 1,000 from a year ago. The county-level figures the Department of Economic Opportunity are not seasonally adjusted. A total of 47,921 people held jobs in April, also a record. Job holders don;t necessarily work in Flagler. The figure represents Flagler County residents who hold jobs, whether the job is in the county, in surrounding counties or a telecommuting job. The figure does not distinguish between full and part-time work. A person is recorded as employed the moment he or she records one hour of work in the period surveyed.
A decade ago, Flagler was struggling month after month with the bleak distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in the state. Today, despite the strong showing, it’s still only in 17th place from Putnam’s state-leading high of 3.6 percent unemployment. Only nine counties have unemployment rates of 3 percent or above, and seven have unemployment rates below 2 percent, among them St. Johns, with 1.7 percent. Monroe has the lowest rate: 1.5 percent.
Florida’s unemployment rate fell to 3 percent in April, with 321,000 Floridians out of work and looking for work. The figure is somewhat deceptive. The state has one of the most draconian unemployment systems, if participants are seeking unemployment compensation. They must follow rigorous rules, prove that they are looking for work or else become ineligible for compensation. Those booted off the rolls no longer count as unemployed, even though they are out of work.
As such, the state’s official unemployment rate undercounts those who are under-employed or who have dropped out of the labor force. The federal government’s alternative unemployment rate accounts for those workers, and places Florida’s unemployment and underemployment rate at 7.6 percent. The nation’s alternative rate is currently 8.4 percent.
Speaking in West palm Beach today, Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for the state’s healthy economy, and said the state’s reserves are at $20 billion, not including federal government aid. The claim, however, is slightly deceptive, reflecting an accounting shell game, as that aid has been used in various parts of the budget in place of state dollars, enabling those dollars to be counted as reserves. The governor spoke today from a Retro Fitness gym in West palm Beach. A governor’s press release states that “Retro Fitness moved to West Palm Beach from New York and New Jersey in order to continue operating and opening gyms in the face of unprecedented lockdowns during the pandemic.”
In fact, Retro Fitness continues to operate numerous locations in New York and New Jersey, and is merely expanding south. Last year it moved its headquarters to West Palm Beach as “a strategic relocation for the brand amid its 15th year anniversary, prompted by Retro Fitness’ continued national growth and expansion,” according to a company release at the time.
See the full unemployment report here.