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Florida's unemployment rate dips to pre-pandemic levels at 2.7 percent

Unemployment Benefits
Marta Lavandier/AP
/
AP
FILE - Marriott human resources recruiter Mariela Cuevas, left, talks to Lisbet Oliveros, during a job fair at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to a new pandemic low 267,000 last week, another sign that the job market is recovering from last year’s sharp coronavirus downturn. Jobless claims fell by 4,000 last week, the Labor Department reported Wednesday, Nov. 10. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to 2.7 percent in July, matching the level before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed into the economy in early 2020, state officials announced Friday.

The July rate was down from 2.8 percent in June and 4.5 percent in July 2021 and came amid signs that inflation has slowed. But state economists this week also expressed concerns about a looming economic “downshift.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking re-election in November and is widely considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, issued a statement Friday that pointed to private-sector employment increasing by 70,000 jobs in July.

“July’s job numbers represent one of the largest month’s job gains over the past generation, and Florida continues to outpace the nation in labor force growth,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

Adrienne Johnston, chief economist for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said the state has hit or exceeded the 70,000 mark in monthly private-sector job growth only seven times since 1990. Johnston said the state economy continues to benefit from reopening earlier than other states after the initial hit of the pandemic.

“We see strong consumer demand continuing, even today,” Johnston said in a conference call with reporters. “As that continues to grow, we are going to see strength in our employment.”

In February 2020, just before the pandemic disrupted the economy, Florida had a jobless rate of 2.7 percent, representing 282,000 people out of work.

By May 2020, 1.4 million Floridians qualified as unemployed, and the jobless rate reached 13.9 percent

In the latest report, the number of Floridians out of work in July stood at 283,000 from a workforce of about 10.66 million.

While Florida has rebounded, Johnston said it has had shifts in types of jobs.

“While we've gone back to levels that are commensurate with where we were back in 2019 and 2020, early 2020, we're seeing a little bit of a shift in which industries are growing the most,” Johnston said. “And most of that is in industries that tend to have higher wages. So, for example, we're seeing strong growth in financial activities and professional and business services. You can see here that we've outpaced the nation in terms of manufacturing.”

Job openings in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, stand at 588,000, up 12,000 from a year ago.

“This is less than the rate of increase in total employment, which means that the share of jobs that are vacant has now declined over the year,” Johnston said. “This is an indication that staffing shortages may be starting to ease.”

With the national unemployment rate at 3.5 percent, Florida was one of 14 states and the District of Columbia to post decreases in jobless rates from June to July, according to the Labor Department. Three states saw upticks --- Indiana, Montana and Nebraska. Rates in the rest of the states were unchanged.

On Tuesday, state economists, acting as the Revenue Estimating Conference, acknowledged significant forecasting challenges as they pieced together new estimates of tax revenues. Inflation has helped lead to sales-tax collections topping expectations, but the economists struggled in predicting key turning points associated with a slower economy.

Across Florida, the highest unemployment rate in July was in rural Hendry County at 5.9 percent, followed by Highlands County at 4.4 percent. The lowest rate was 1.7 percent in Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys. St. Johns County was next lowest at 2.2 percent. Miami-Dade and Okaloosa counties were both at 2.3 percent.

The statewide rate is seasonally adjusted, while the county rates are not.