Number crunchers tracking the state's unemployment cautioned that the news could be grim after an annual revision of years worth of data.
Boy, were they right.
Turns out the recession gripping Florida has been even deeper than reported, with monthly estimates overlooking thousands of lost jobs in construction and retail. The upshot: Economists now think the state will lag the rest of the country in recovery, shoving back expectations of a Florida turnaround into 2010.
Companies are shedding workers at a pace that rivals the 1974-75 recession, slashing 355,700 jobs last year based on the revisions. And topping it off, Florida's unemployment rate jumped a full percentage point in January to 8.6 percent, a 16-year high, the state said Friday. It's unlikely to stop there.
"In the near term, there's not a lot to prevent a double-digit unemployment rate," said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.
The state used tax records and other information to more accurately reflect the work force, going back 18 years in some cases. But most striking were changes to more recent months, revealing the state had overestimated the size of Florida's work force as of December by more than 200,000.
Snaith noted that the state revised downward to reflect there were 10,000 more lost jobs in retail and 12,000 in construction. All told, the construction industry lost 100,700 jobs in a year.
"The severity of the recession and how it's affected Florida's economy wasn't being accurately captured by that earlier data," Snaith said. "Unfortunately, it's a little bit deeper and little bit darker than we previously thought."
The Florida Economic Estimating Conference this week predicted that "normal economic growth" won't return until the end of 2010.
University of Florida economist David Denslow said the next report could show Florida's unemployment reached 9 percent in February. Both the jump in unemployment and the stock market plummet are crimping personal spending and postponing any semblance of recovery, he said.
"Florida is still reeling from what's going on nationally more than anything else, and the national numbers are just horrible," added Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg. "We've lost 4.4 million jobs since the recession began and more than half of that was just in the last four months alone."
The Labor Department on Friday reported the country's unemployment rate jumped to a 25-year high of 8.1 percent in February, with employers cutting 651,000 jobs. If part-time, discouraged workers and others are factored in, the unemployment rate would have been 14.8 percent in February.
In three weeks, Florida comes out with its own February unemployment report. But its January numbers were bad enough, particularly close to home.
In the Tampa Bay area, nearly one in 10 are out of work. All the regional counties showed leaps in unemployment rates, but Hernando's was the most pronounced, jumping from 10.8 percent in December to 12.4 percent in January.
Some of those looking for relief converged Friday at a job fair at the Quorum Hotel in Tampa.
Only two hours into the four-hour fair, close to 700 job seekers had passed through the hotel's Royal Palm Ballroom, many in their finest clothes as they parceled out resumes.
Sarah Narine was disappointed at the slim pickings. In May, she'll lose her accounting and administrative job at Freedom Online, a wireless Internet service in Tampa.
What she saw Friday — including the heavy presence of Avon scouting new sales people — offered few prospects in her field. At least it was better than a Tampa job fair last month that had only five booths.
"I actually expected actual companies that want to hire," Narine said before she lined up at the Verizon Wireless table for a chance at three sales jobs.
One of two debt collection exhibitors, Tyler & Morgan Inc., specializes in persuading people to pay their credit card, personal loan and auto loan debt.
"We have 20 collectors and can fit at least 77 more people at our place on Hillsborough Avenue," manager Aurora Rivera said.
Rivera shook so many hands she had a quart-sized bottle of goopy yellow hand sanitizer at the ready.
Times staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8242
By the numbers
The jobless rate in the Tampa Bay area has increased since December 2008.
up from 10.8 percent
up from 9.9 percent
up from 9.3 percent
up from 8.2 percent
up from 7.9 percent
up from 8.4 percent