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Politics

Florida Jobless Rate Steady, but Slight Increase Predicted

September 15, 2011 - 6:00pm

For the 11th consecutive month, the unemployment picture in Florida has shown some light.

But because the federal government continues to struggle with its budget, the states unemployment improvements in the past year could suffer a setback later this year.

Rebecca Rust, Agency for Workforce Innovations chief economist, said the forecast from the Economic Estimating Conference is for Floridas unemployment rate to go back to 11 percent by the end of this year, returning to 10.6 percent at the end of 2012.

Overall, the optimism has been pulled back by some degree, Rust said of the nations economic outlook. I think they do expect, due to the budget constraints at the national level, for deficit reduction goals that will impact the federal funds that do come in to the state of Florida, so there will be some short-term impacts.

She noted that in addition to low consumer confidence and the European debt crises shaking U.S. markets, Florida's economy could be hurt by declines in defense spending as operations are scaled back in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Florida's unemployment rate in August held steadyfor the third month at 10.7 percent, according to numbers released Friday by the Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, stated the monthly numbers indicate Florida continues to be moving in the right direction in terms of how government operates to create jobs.

Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have already taken significant steps in the right direction by lowering taxes, balancing the states budget, streamlining regulations and reorganizing Floridas economic development functions, Wilson stated in a news release. With additional education and legal reforms, Florida can and will once again lead the nation in private-sector job creation.

Overall, the state work force grew by 0.1 percent, or 9,900 jobs, from July to August.

A year ago, the unemployment rate in Florida was 11.6 percent, down from a high of 12 percent in December 2010.

The August job numbers prove that when you reduce the size, scope and cost of government, it allows the private-sector jobs to grow, Gov. Rick Scott declared in a release. For every job lost in the public sector, Florida gained two jobs in the private sector. There is still a long road ahead, but by removing the red tape that restricts economic development, we are on the right path to getting Florida back to work.

AWI Director Cynthia R. Lorenzo called the August numbers an optimistic sign for a state that remains above the national unemployment mark of 9.1 percent.

An increase of nearly 10,000 jobs since last month is another positive indication that Floridas employers are gaining confidence, people are getting back to work, and our state is making progress under Governor Scotts leadership, Lorenzo stated in a release. With the launch next month of the Department of Economic Opportunity, we are taking a bold step to position Florida as the No. 1 state in the nation to do business and create jobs.

Since the start of the year, even with the Space Coast down 13,000 jobs due to the retirement of the space shuttle program, the state had added 71,600 jobs, Rust said.

The state also struggles with weak consumer demand, manufacturers' complaints that the work force is untrained for many technical jobs, and a surplus of homes reducing the need for new construction.

According to the agency numbers, the counties with the highest unemployment rates remain Hendry (17.9 percent), Flagler (14.9 percent), Indian River (13.9 percent), Hernando (13.9 percent) and St. Lucie (13.7 percent).

The lowest unemployment rates are found in Monroe (6.7 percent), Walton and Liberty (both 7 percent).

The fields of leisure and hospitality had the largest growth, 5.1 percent, growing by 46,600 jobs between August 2010 and August 2011.

The biggest year-to-year drops were experienced in government (down 1.8 percent, or 20,400 jobs) and construction (down 5.1 percent, or 17,600 jobs).

Rust credited the government decrease in part to the hiring of temporary U.S. Census workers in 2010 combined with state and local government staff reductions.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., went on Twitter to declare that Floridas continued high unemployment number should be used as a cautionary reminder to oppose President Obamas jobs proposal.

Cant afford to repeat mistakes of past w/#Stimulus2.0, Rooney tweeted.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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