Unemployment in Hernando County leaped to 12.4 percent in January, surprising local experts.
The revised rate for December was 10.8 percent, down slightly from 10.9 percent.
That means nearly 1,000 more job-seekers were added to the ranks of the unemployed between December and January, according to figures released Friday by Florida's work force agency.
Largely because of its dependence on the nearly dormant home-building industry, Hernando remained No. 2 in unemployment among Florida's 67 counties, trailing only Flagler County, which had a rate of 14.2 percent.
"Honestly, we didn't expect it to be that high," said Kenneth Russ, vice president of business development at the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board. "We didn't expect a jump like that."
Around the county, people continue to feel the effects.
On a recent afternoon, a steady stream of residents walked into the county's Department of Health and Human Services looking for assistance. One woman wanted help with medication; another was seeking information about health insurance for her granddaughter.
"The trickle-down effect begins with unemployment," director Jean Rags said.
Something as basic as the recent spike in utility bills can present a huge challenge for someone who was already struggling, Rags said.
Once people get behind, it adds up. Instead of a $200 bill, it's $400. A nonprofit organization that might have been able to help four families can now help only one, she said.
Many of the newly unemployed, Rags said, are hesitant to spend half of their unemployment checks on COBRA to extend their health insurance.
"It's the first thing they drop," she said.
Carol McAvoy, a social worker with the Hernando County school system, has also seen consequences of unemployment. She has worked with families that have lost their jobs, and then their homes.
The district has about 170 students officially classified as homeless. Many of these families live with friends or extended family, hoping to eventually be able to afford their own place again.
McAvoy has assisted several children who have lost their family home, then had to give up a beloved cat or dog when their family moved.
"It breaks my heart," she said.
More people have also been seeking help at the United Way of Hernando County, which has needed to add staff to handle the increase in calls to its 211 help line.
"Calls have doubled and tripled," executive director Kathy Jones said.
People are seeking support for just about everything — electric bills, rent, mortgage, food.
The United Way has also experienced an increase in foot traffic.
"People are walking into my office every single day," Jones said. "The stories are so sad. I have boxes of Kleenex for everyone."
Over at Circuit City on Cortez Boulevard in Spring Hill, three soon-to-be-unemployed workers stood ready to sell the last of the flat-screen TVs inside the store.
The company, which declared bankruptcy in January, closes shop on Sunday.
"It's still a paycheck until Sunday," said employee John Cottrell. "There's a lot of people out there who don't even have that."