Florida lost more jobs in November than any other state as the pain that started in home construction continued spreading to other parts of the economy.
The state's employment level fell by 58,600 workers from October, according to federal numbers released Friday. Florida's unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent, the highest since June 1993 and well above the national rate of 6.7 percent for November.
That translates to 680,000 jobless Floridians out of a work force of 9.3-million. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area shed 30,600 jobs in the past year as the unemployment rate hit 7.8 percent last month.
Hernando County is mired in the region's worst slump, with unemployment at 10.2 percent. That's the first double-digit rate for a Tampa Bay area county since September 1992.
A year ago, Florida's unemployment rate was 4.4 percent. Since then, Florida shed nearly 207,000 jobs, a third of them in construction.
"It's an unusual position Florida finds itself in with the weakest economy in the country,'' said Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wachovia Securities who tracks Florida. "The housing business is at the root of Florida's problems.''
North Carolina ranked behind Florida with 46,000 jobs lost between October and November. California was third with a drop of 41,700 jobs.
Six to eight months ago, Florida's job losses were limited to workers tied to home building, said Tyra Tutor, a senior vice president of MPS Group, a staffing company in Jacksonville.
"Areas that were immune — accounting, IT, engineering — have all begun to feel it,'' she said. "It's affecting everybody in every category."
A few sectors, such as government and institutions, are holding their own. Health care continues to grow, said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida. "You might put off buying a flat-screen TV,'' he said. "But if your appendix ruptures, you don't have much choice.''
Far more are suffering. Retailers will likely cut employment early next year as results from a dismal fourth quarter roll in, Snaith said. Tourism "is starting to show some cracks'' with the recession taking hold in England and Europe, key feeder markets for Florida, he said.
A proposed federal stimulus package to rebuild highways, bridges and other infrastructure might help. But it won't save Florida's home and commercial builders.
How long before the Sunshine State's job rolls grow again? The recession should last into the summer, with hiring picking up in early 2010, Vitner predicted.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.