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Florida Unemployment Rate Inches Down By Less Than A Percentage Point

Envelopes from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Reemployment Assistance Program are shown, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Surfside, Fla. Through April 2021, Florida has regained about half the number of jobs lost in March and April of 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Envelopes from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Reemployment Assistance Program are shown, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Surfside, Fla. Through April 2021, Florida has regained about half the number of jobs lost in March and April of 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

TALLAHASSEE --- Florida’s unemployment rate inched down slightly from July to August, as the labor force continues to grow but the number of people without jobs holds steady.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday announced the state’s unemployment rate for August stood at 5.0 percent, down 0.1 percentage point from the mark in July.

The latest report showed 529,000 people qualified as being unemployed, down 1,000 from revised July numbers, while the state’s workforce increased by 65,000 to 10.54 million.

The figures mark the second month since state leaders began to openly push people back into the workforce following COVID-19 layoffs, and come as the national job-creation total of 235,000 in August was deemed disappointing.

Still, Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, called Florida’s figures “positive.”

“I think what we saw is continued job gains in the private sector, which is what we were expecting and that's what we were hoping to see,” Johnston told reporters during a conference call Friday. “More importantly, as we saw more jobs added to payrolls … we also see people joining the labor market. And so, we've had several months of continued growth in both payroll employment and labor force growth, and people are gaining employment over the month as well.”

Florida’s labor force has grown by more than half a million people since October, when the state was completing its reopening efforts after the initial hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June 2020, when the unemployment rate stood at 11.6 percent, an estimated 1.149 million Floridians were listed as out of work.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity reports that Florida has recouped 76.8 percent of the jobs considered lost due to the pandemic.

According to U.S. Department of Labor estimates, over the past year Florida has added about 378,000 jobs, trailing 874,000 new jobs in California, 411,000 in New York and 681,000 in Texas.

Florida’s jobless rate, however, beats the national mark, which went from 5.4 percent in July to 5.2 percent in August.

From July to August, businesses involved with financial activities in Florida gained 8,900 jobs, professional and business services grew by 7,900 positions, and education and health care jobs grew by 6,100.

However, a troubling note is that leisure and hospitality jobs declined from July to August by 4,300, a possible sign of the impact of the highly transmissible delta variant of the virus on tourism, which recently celebrated a strong second quarter among domestic travelers.

The drop in tourism jobs comes despite a focus on helping the industry to find workers.

The state in June withdrew Florida early from two federal assistance programs --- the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation programs --- and reinstated a “work search” requirement for people seeking unemployment benefits.

Other federal unemployment programs that were part of pandemic recovery efforts ended Sept. 6.

Florida since mid-May has seen little change in the weekly number of new unemployment claims, averaging 7,895 first-time applications per week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Before the labor push, the state’s workforce stood at 10.24 million, with the number of people classified as being out of work at 503,000.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said this week that many people who were career service-industry workers decided to leave the field during the pandemic for positions with more pay and benefits.

Johnston said that, while people are finding jobs as they return to the workforce, there’s still a lot of friction in the labor market and it could take a few more months to determine the success of the labor-force push.

“As we saw with the unemployment rate declining, there's still going to be a little bit of tension between the jobs being advertised and people finding those jobs,” Johnston said.

Across Florida, the lowest unemployment rate is in the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin metropolitan area at 3.8 percent, down from 4.0 percent in July. A year ago, when Florida’s unemployment rate started to drop following COVID-19 shutdowns, the area's rate was at 4.8 percent and the state’s mark stood at 7.9 percent.

The state’s highest unemployment rate continues to be found in the Sebring area at 6.5 percent. The Villages is at 6.4 percent and Homosassa Springs is at 6.3 percent.

The unemployment rate in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area is at 5.6 percent, while the Miami-Miami Beach subdistrict on its own holds a 6.7 percent jobless mark.

The tourism-heavy Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area has a 5.0 percent unemployment rate. A year ago, the central Florida region topped the state with a 10.7 percent jobless rate.

The Pensacola area is at 4.5 percent; the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area stands at 4.5 percent; and the Jacksonville area is at 4.3 percent.

Jim Turner / News Service of Florida
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