By Michael Peltier
The News Service of Florida
Florida’s unemployment rate inched up in November to 12 percent, despite seasonal jumps in tourism, healthcare and retail hiring, as the state continues to be otherwise mired by slow construction and lackluster real estate markets.
The rate, up from 11.9 percent in October and 0.4 points higher than a revised November 2009 figure, comes as business groups prepare to pay higher unemployment compensation taxes beginning next year and weather other expenses that may be hindering their desire to fill positions.
The 12 percent rate puts the state back where it began the year. The jobless rate hit 12.3 percent in March, before edging back down.
November’s figure is the second highest in the country, behind only California and Michigan, which tied at 12.4 percent. The national average was 9.8 percent.
In real terms, the rate translates into 1.1 million jobless out of a workforce of 9.2 million. The only glimmer of holiday cheer may be that 36,200 jobs have been added since November 2009, an increase of 0.5 percent, But even that lagged behind a national job growth rate of 0.6 percent over the year.
Florida’s Gov.-elect Rick Scott, called the figures “inexcusable” and evidence that economic reforms are needed.
“In order to turn Florida’s economy around, we need to put jobs first and make sure all government expenditures are justified,” Scott said in a statement. “As the ‘Jobs Governor’, I have already begun meeting with Floridians to identify opportunities for job growth, and I am committed to getting Florida back to work by making Florida the best place to do business.”
Friday’s release comes a day after Congress approved an $858 billion package of tax credits on income, investments, and estate transfers along with an extension of unemployment benefits to millions of workers as part of a compromise to keep the national recovery on track. The extension is expected to help Floridians whose benefits were about to be exhausted.
“Knowing that this is an uncertain time for many Florida families, our agency has been closely monitoring the discussion in Congress on an additional extension of federally funded unemployment benefits,” said AWI Director Cynthia R. Lorenzo. “With passage of the legislation last night, we are prepared to immediately begin processing payments as soon as the president signs the bill.”
But there’s little hope of a dramatic reduction in the jobless rate anytime soon, said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist who said job growth will return slowly while unemployment rates remain “painfully high” over the next several months.
“Florida’s economy has moved out of recession, but the recovery will continue to be sluggish due to the combined ballast of the housing and labor markets,” Snaith said.
Construction employment continued to slide in November. The number of construction jobs fell 3.6 percent between November 2009 and last month, which translates into 12,900 fewer jobs in the critical economic sector. Since its peak, Florida’s construction industry has been cut in half, said Rebecca Rust, AWI chief economist.
The heightened jobless figures comes despite gains in some economic sectors, most notably health care, hospitality, and retailers in holiday mode, said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, who characterized the increase as “very discouraging.”
“It’s a stubborn recession,” McAllister told News Service of Florida. “There are still organizations, and businesses that are withholding spending or hiring based on a lack of stability and what future costs are expected be, whether that’s health care or higher taxes.”
At 17.9 percent Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate in the stae. It was followed by Flagler County at 16.6 percent and Hernando and St. Lucie counties, which posted 15.2 percent rates for the month.
In November 2010, Liberty County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 8.1 percent. The Panhandle county with a large corrections system was followed by Monroe County (8.5 percent); Alachua County (8.6 percent); Leon, Okaloosa, and Wakulla counties (8.7 percent each).
There are 55 Florida counties with double-digit unemployment rates in November, up from 48 in October.
McAllister said that increases in unemployment taxes, expected to triple in some cases beginning in January, are the next challenges businesses must face as they struggle to get back on their feet.
Employers are about to see their minimum unemployment tax rate go from around $25 per worker to just under $75 per worker, with another $9 per employee hit expected in June.
“This is a $2 billion hit for businesses at a horrible time,” McAllister said.
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