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Florida's unemployment rate remains at a near-historic low

Unemployment claim form
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Florida’s unemployment rate remained at a near-historic low of 2.6 percent in May and has been unchanged since January, according to a report released Friday by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Florida's unemployment rate has remained at 2.6 percent since January, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Florida’s unemployment rate remained at a near-historic low of 2.6 percent in May and has been unchanged since January, according to a report released Friday by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

The May rate represented an estimated 287,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed in mid-May from a labor force of 10.998 million. It was down from 2.9 percent a year earlier and was below the national rate last month of 3.7 percent.

The number of people out of work in Florida was up 6,000 from April, but down 22,000 from May 2022.

A news release from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office pointed to private-sector employment increasing by 17,200 jobs in May and growing faster than the national pace.

Jimmy Heckman, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s chief of workforce statistics and economic research, said Florida’s numbers might be able to improve in some areas, pointing to population growth and the state leading the nation in business formations over the past three years.

But the state might not be able to reach the spring 2006 unemployment rate of 2.4 percent.

“There’s a strong possibility that we could see lower unemployment rates in the future, but 2.6 (percent) is a very, very low rate,” Heckman said. “It’s very close to the lowest rate we’ve ever seen in the state.”

One area that has slumped is construction, which dropped 1,600 jobs in May and has been on a decline for five consecutive months.

The decline is most noticeable in South Florida, while growth has occurred in the Jacksonville and Tampa Bay regions, Heckman said.

Heckman on Friday didn’t address why construction jobs are in decline. Last month, Heckman attributed the drop to rising mortgage rates affecting demand for new housing.

But in an interviewwith WMFE public radio, Florida Policy Institute CEO Sadaf Knight said a new immigration law could influence whether people continue to move to the state to work. Among other things, the law (SB 1718) will require employers with 25 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm worker eligibility.

"Already we're seeing on social media, and even in news reports, people are just deciding to leave and not show up for work because there is a culture of fear and a chilling effect," Knight told WMFE. “Regardless of what it says specifically in the bill, there's the broader implications of how it makes people feel."

Even with the recent declines, construction was still up a total of 6,200 jobs over the past year.

The release of the state report Friday came as inflation slows --- the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday put the inflation rate at 4 percent, the lowest since March 2021.

Last June, inflation topped 9 percent and a gallon of gas approached $5. The average gallon of gas in Florida on Friday was $3.44.

The easing of inflation is considered a sign of optimism from consumers, who, according to state economists, haven’t slowed their pace of spending despite costs going up.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses on Tuesday said inflation was a bigger concern for businesses than labor.

“The cost of doing business continues to rise across the state and across the country, and that means owners are wary about investing in new equipment or locations or creating jobs,” NFIB Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said in a prepared statement.

Across Florida, the metropolitan-statistical area with the lowest unemployment rate in May was the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin area at 2.3 percent.

The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island and Panama City regions were each at 2.4 percent.

The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent and Jacksonville areas were each at 2.7 percent.

The highest unemployment rates were in the Sebring area at 4 percent; the Homosassa Springs area at 3.9 percent; and The Villages area at 3.7 percent.

The statewide unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted, while regional rates are not adjusted.