Florida's unemployment rate jumped to 11 percent in September, pushing the total number of jobless statewide above 1 million for the first time.
In the Tampa Bay area, the news was even more grim: a jobless rate of 11.7 percent, up from 11.4 percent in August.
Separately, the Labor Department reported that personal income in Florida fell slightly in the second quarter, missing out on a rebound enjoyed by most of the country.
Put together, the economic barometers released Friday present a sobering reality: Notwithstanding percolating stock markets and a near-consensus among economists that the recession is technically over, Florida is still grappling to find a bottom in this downturn.
"Florida is probably going to lag in recovery at least a year behind the rest of the country," said Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities. He predicted Florida's unemployment will peak next year around 11.5 percent and that the national average, now at 9.8 percent, will peak at about 10.5 percent.
When it comes to Florida, "I confess we're low-balling those numbers a little bit," Vitner said, "because we don't want to scare the hell out of people."
Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of Moody's Economy.com, said he was most surprised Friday to learn the state's labor force continues to contract so significantly. The state's available labor pool of 9.19 million is down 11,000 people in one month and 85,000 over the year.
Some of those 85,000 likely left Florida, but economists think many have temporarily stopped looking for work until the economy improves. Because they're out of the labor pool, they're not counted in calculating the unemployment rate.
Zandi says that increases the likelihood that Florida's jobless rate will reach 12 percent once those sitting on the sidelines try to re-enter the work force.
Florida entered the recession earlier than the rest of the country because of the housing bust. And ongoing turbulence in the housing market is key in hampering its recovery.
The flow of workers and retirees into Florida has halted with many homeowners underwater and/or unable to sell their homes. Access to credit remains tight. The tourism and travel industries are still under pressure. While the country as a whole saw personal income rise 0.2 percent in the second quarter, it fell in Florida by 0.2 percent, the fourth consecutive quarterly drop.
All of which makes it tough for companies to gain enough traction and confidence to start adding workers again.
It has often been described as a jobless recovery; Zandi floats another term.
"It's called a growth recession," he said. "You're producing more stuff, but not enough stuff to get businesses to hire people."
So even if the economy grows mildly quarter to quarter, it won't feel like a recovery. "To people, what matters is jobs and whether they're going to get a pay increase or not," Zandi said. "By that definition, we're still in a recession."
Florida's jobless rate, up from a revised 10.8 percent for August, is now at a level not seen since October 1975. It's less than a percentage point shy of the state's modern-era record set in May 1975 of 11.9 percent, according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation (AWI), the state's unemployment agency.
Among Florida's top industries, education/health care is the only sector gaining jobs — 9,800 over the year.
Florida continues to have a steeper job loss than the national average, shedding 360,400 jobs over the past year. But Rebecca Rust, chief economist with the Agency for Workforce Innovation, said in a conference call Friday that she's encouraged that the pace of job loss continues to lessen month to month. In September, the state lost 18,000 jobs.
"Even though we're still having a declining rate, it has moderated," Rust said, "and we're looking for every positive sign we can find."
AWI director Cynthia Lorenzo offered another positive sign: Fewer employers are announcing closings or large-scale layoffs.
Last week, for the first time in more than a year, no employer filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice with the state, which is required for larger layoffs. WARN announcements peaked in May with 4,000 layoffs announced; in September, only 285 layoffs were announced.
"The recovery is coming slowly, but it is coming," Lorenzo said.
Many economists have predicted it could take years before Florida's unemployment rate returns to a more healthy range of 5 to 6 percent. Some long-term forecasts extending to 2020 predict the rate will still be north of 6 percent at that point.
In July, a group of economists known as the Florida Economic Estimating Conference predicted unemployment would peak at 11 percent in the second quarter of 2010 before a slow contraction.
Now that the state has hit that milestone much quicker than anticipated, the new peak prediction will likely be revised to somewhere between 11 and 12 percent when the conference meets again next month, Rust said.
The unemployment rate, based on U.S. Census data drawn from monthly household surveys, is just one reflection of the depth of the jobs crisis.
Add in the number of discouraged Floridians no longer actively looking for work and those considered "underutilized" or unable to move from part-time to full-time work and the rate would swell another 7.2 percent, Rust said. That would translate to an unemployment rate of 18.2 percent, or almost one in five Floridians affected.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jeffmharrington.