Make us your home page

Florida's unemployment rises but is lowest uptick in 15 months

Take a deep breath.

After months of shedding jobs at a breakneck pace, Florida's economy took a break from its freefall in March with unemployment inching up just slightly to 9.7 percent from a revised 9.6 percent a month earlier.

It marks the smallest monthly increase in Florida's jobless rate in 15 months.

Few are predicting that Florida is poised for recovery or even bottoming out just yet. But along with the easing of credit and rising bank profits, the job numbers released Friday were a welcome sign of moderation in a recession highlighted by extreme losses, especially on the job front, with the state losing more than 400,000 jobs the past 12 months.

Consumers and businesses are still cautious, "but they've climbed out of the foxhole,'' says economist Scott Brown of Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg. One anecdotal benchmark Brown uses is that it's tougher to get a table at a restaurant on the weekend than just a few months ago, a sign people are gradually starting to spend again.

"There is a palpable sense that the terrifying economic free­fall we have been experiencing has slowed to a gradual descent, which isn't exactly good news, but it's an encouraging sign," added Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness.

Among those urging Floridians not to place too much hope on one month was Rebecca Rust, economist with the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, which assembles the unemployment figures. "We need four months (of data) to determine a trend … if the economy is improving," she said.

Florida continues to track well above the national average in shedding jobs. The national unemployment rate is currently at 8.5 percent, up from 8.1 percent in February.

In the Tampa Bay area, the unemployment rate in March rose to 10.4 percent, up from a revised rate of 10.3 percent a month ago. Hernando County continued to post the worst numbers in the region with 12.9 percent.

Flagler County remains the toughest county statewide to find a job, but its unemployment rate dropped in March to 14.3 percent from a revised February number of 14.4 percent. At 5.2 percent, Liberty County boasts the lowest rate.

Job cuts have been particularly brutal since the fall. As recently as October, Florida could boast an unemployment rate under 7 percent. A rate of 9.7 percent represents 893,000 jobless out of a statewide workforce of 9.2 million.

That rate matches a modern era record for unemployment in Florida set in the first three months of 1976, and it's expected to climb above 10 percent eventually.

Mark Zandi, founder and chief economist of Moody's, predicts Florida's rate may reach as high as 11.5 percent over the coming year.

The slowdown in March is "certainly a positive sign," Zandi said, but "Florida's unemployment will certainly peak well over 10 percent. We've got that unfortunate benchmark ahead of us."

It could come very soon. Zandi called early unemployment insurance data for April "pretty ugly.''

Cynthia Lorenzo, interim director of the Agency for Workforce Innovation, said her office processed more than 78,000 unemployment claims last week, compared with 19,000 claims in the same week a year ago. In recent months, the office said its claims volume had been running 250 percent above year-ago levels.

In a twist, Zandi's predication of higher unemployment is pegged in part to economic recovery. Once the job market shows signs of life, that will drive some people who took themselves out of the market a long time ago to wade back in. Their re-entry will make competition tougher and drive up unemployment, he said.

Those Floridians now on the sidelines, along with those working part time who can't find a full-time job, are part of what's referred to as the underemployed. With the underemployed factored in, Florida's unemployment rate would likely double.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at or (727) 893-8242.

>>Fast facts

County by county

March unemployment rate in area counties:

Hernando: 12.9 percent

Pasco: 11.5 percent

Citrus: 11.4 percent

Pinellas: 10.3 percent

Hillsborough: 9.9 percent

Tampa Bay area: 10.4 percent

Source: Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation

Florida's unemployment rises but is lowest uptick in 15 months 04/17/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 11:08am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum


    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  2. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks


    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  3. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  4. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday


    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  5. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes


    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at the DOT’s Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue.