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Florida unemployment hit 10.2% in May as Tampa Bay's leapt to 10.6%

With nearly 943,000 Floridians out of work in May, the state's unemployment rate vaulted to double digits, registering its highest mark since 1975.

Across the state, 10.2 percent of the work force was involuntarily idled in May, a half-point rise from April's unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.

Joblessness in the Tampa Bay area jumped to 10.6 percent, up from 10.2 percent in April. Just a year earlier, local unemployment stood at 5.9 percent. But the recession that began with the housing slump has been infecting formerly healthy industries like retail, engineering and publishing.

Will our job woes improve soon? Most economists think not. They assume that even when the economy turns up, job seekers returning to the market will keep the rate high.

"We're going to experience double-digit pain not just for a few months, but through the middle of 2011," said Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida. "Florida's labor market will be the ugly scar that is slow to fade."

Take heart: It could be worse. The U.S. Census and the Internal Revenue Service have identified hundreds of thousands of working-age Floridians leaving the state, many in search of work.

What was once our jobless problem is now the problem of Texas, Tennessee or North Carolina. You get an idea of how disproportionate the migration has been by rental truck rates charged by U-Haul.

A large moving van rented in Tampa and dropped off in Dallas costs $2,144. The same van driven from Dallas to Tampa costs $602. Dallas' unemployment rate is 7.1 percent vs. Tampa Bay's 10.6 percent.

"The migration is sizable. It's over 100,000 folks," said Wachovia economist Mark Vitner, who tracks Florida joblessness. "The gross migration numbers are huge."

That outmigration will slow, if only because unemployment nationally is reaching Florida levels, giving job hunters fewer options. Charlotte, N.C., once the gleaming jewel in the Sun Belt, is weighed down by unemployment of nearly 12 percent. The banking collapse is largely to blame.

The national unemployment rate was 9.4 percent in May, up from April's 8.9 percent. Economists like Vitner assume Florida's recession will persist even when economic healing begins nationally. Economic growth could return as early as this fall, but job creation often lags.

With the decline in construction across Florida, spinoff industries like home furnishings continue to take a beating. For example, hot tub maker DM Industries shut down its Opa-locka factory and satellite operations in Tampa. Tampa's Consolidated Bedding announced it was laying off 157 at its Spring Air mattress factory.

The recession has pushed the pain well beyond housing. Call centers, local government, hospitals, universities and newspapers have also been shedding workers.

The unemployment picture appears the same in every county around Tampa Bay, where the jobless totaled an estimated 139,866 in May.

Before a recovery takes root, the economy has to work off five excesses, Vitner said: home construction, consumer credit, international trade, financial services and commercial real estate.

"Those five areas are the biggest trouble spot and they're all more important to Florida than they are to the rest of the nation."

Joel Poelhuis of the Miami Herald contributed to this report.

FAST FACTS

By the numbers

May's unemployment rate surged past April's. Here's the monthly comparison:

April May

Florida9.7 % 10.2

Tampa Bay10.2 10.6

Pinellas10.1 10.4

Pasco11.3 11.7

Hillsborough9.7 10.2

Hernando12.2 12.7

Citrus10.8 11.2

Source: Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation

Florida unemployment hit 10.2% in May as Tampa Bay's leapt to 10.6% 06/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 19, 2009 10:21pm]

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