Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Business

Gov. Rick Scott annoyed at questions over state's unemployment rate

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott cut off a journalist Tuesday who tried to ask him about a report from a top state economist who said Florida's fall in unemployment is almost exclusively due to people leaving the workforce.

"Mike! I said I've answered all your questions," said Scott, briefly abandoning his normally laid-back demeanor and raising his voice in response to Bloomberg reporter Michael C. Bender.

The reporter had pointed out the findings of Amy Baker, the Florida Legislature's chief economist, which showed that Florida's unemployment rate is falling for a dire reason: a shrinking workforce.

For the past few months — as Scott has touted the 2 percentage point drop in the unemployment rate — economists have noted that the rate is falling because people have given up looking for work and aren't being counted among unemployed. Job creation has been mediocre compared with other states and is lagging the national growth rate.

Meanwhile, Scott — who based his 2010 campaign and governorship on his ability to create jobs — said last week that "Every economic indicator we have is good."

As Scott's message has begun to diverge from that of economists and other state officials, media scrutiny has intensified.

When reporters questioned Scott about the unemployment rate Tuesday, the governor became elusive and dismissive. Here's the partial exchange with Bender:

Reporter: "Are you saying those numbers from the state economist are wrong, governor?"

Scott: "I'm saying we generated 130,000 jobs."

Reporter: "But that's not all of the — "

Scott: "Mike, I've answered all your questions on that."

Reporter: "But, no, my question is about the unemployment rate drop — "

Scott: "Mike! I said I've answered all your questions."

With reports on Florida's unemployment and poverty rates due out later this week, there is growing concern that the economic recovery may be slowing. So far this year, net job growth has been negative.

Even as the U.S. recovery remains tepid, unemployed people in Florida are having a harder time finding a job than in any other place in the country, according to a recent study by Florida International University.

"Florida's long-term unemployment rate, however, has continued to rise in 2011, reaching record-high rates and making it number one among states," reads the FIU report. "No state has ever had a long-term unemployment rate as high as Florida's, which was 53 percent in 2011."

The report found that Florida's recovery began to fall behind the national recovery in early 2011, shortly after Scott took office.

Baker found that if workforce participation hadn't shrunk from January 2011 levels, Florida's unemployment rate would be 10.1 percent. It's at 8.8 percent, down from 11.1 percent in December 2010.

The labor-participation rate has fallen to 60 percent, the lowest since 1986.

Though Scott opted against answering specific questions about the falling workforce, he stood by his positive portrayal of the state's economy.

"Indicators are very good in our state," he said. "Biggest drop in unemployment in our state. Tourism is up, exports are up, home prices are up, home sales are up, new home construction is up."

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