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Florida's jobless rate dips to 4.5 percent


Unemployment continues to slowly improve in Florida as the state gets closer to regaining the number of jobs lost when the COVID-19 pandemic caused business closures and layoffs last year.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity released a report Friday that estimated the state’s November unemployment rate at 4.5 percent, down from 4.6 percent in October. Florida added 51,100 jobs from October to November.

State officials credited Gov. Ron DeSantis’ policies, which included pushing to reopen the economy after it was largely shut down in spring 2020.

“We're holding down the fort here in Florida,” DeSantis said Friday during an appearance at Ocala Regional Medical Center. “We are going to continue to lead, and we're very proud of what we've been able to do.”

The state’s November unemployment rate was higher than the national mark of 4.2 percent, which decreased from 4.6 percent in October.

The U.S. Department of Labor this month reported the addition of an estimated 210,000 jobs nationally in November. That was less than half of what some analysts had projected.

“We’re a massive country, over 330 million people, 200,000 jobs, you know, that's not a lot for the whole country,” DeSantis said Friday. “And of that, for Florida to be over 50,000 (new jobs), you know, it just shows that the policies matter.”

The state’s November unemployment rate represented 483,000 out-of-work Floridians from a labor force of 10.63 million. The number of Floridians classified as unemployed decreased by 7,000 from October to November and was down by 57,000 from November 2020.

The report said the state had recaptured 91.2 percent of the 1.27 million jobs lost between February and April 2020. That was an improvement from an 86.6 percent recapture rate in a report issued last month.

Adrienne Johnston, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s chief economist, told reporters in a conference call Friday that several industries have already exceeded pre-March 2020 employment numbers.

Over the past four weeks, Florida has averaged 5,463 first-time jobless claims, similar to the numbers of weekly claims before the pandemic pummeled the economy in spring 2020. Since mid-May of this year, when state officials upped efforts to push people back into the labor force, Florida has averaged 7,414 new claims a week.

Johnston did not address questions about the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is expected to increase the number of infections in the state.

“There’s a lot of things going on, but people are coming back into the labor market, which is what is encouraging,” Johnston said. “Employers are advertising for their jobs. They are continuing to add to their payrolls. So, all of those things are positive signs. It’s just going to take a little bit of time for the market to work those out.”

As of November, the leisure and hospitality industries, which took the biggest hit from pandemic closures, had recaptured 134,800 jobs compared to a year earlier.

Across Florida, the lowest unemployment in November was in Monroe County, at 2.2 percent. Next lowest was St. Johns County at 2.6 percent, followed by Collier, Nassau, Okaloosa and Wakulla counties, which each were at 2.9 percent.

Putnam County was at the high end, with a 5.4 percent jobless mark. Hendry County and Hamilton County were at 5.1 percent.

Regionally, the lowest unemployment rates were in the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin metropolitan statistical area and the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area, both at 2.9 percent.

The tourism-dependent Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area went from 4.4 percent in October to 3.9 percent, while the Miami-Fort-Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area dropped from 4.0 percent for October to 3.7 percent.

The Jacksonville area stood at 3.3 percent in November. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Panama City areas were at 3.4 percent. The Pensacola area was at 3.5 percent. The Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach area was at 3.9 percent.

The Villages metropolitan area had the highest rate at 5.0 percent, an improvement from 5.2 percent in October. The Sebring and Homosassa Springs areas were at 4.9 percent.

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

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