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Out-of-work rates show Florida unemployment unchanged in July

So much for popular economic talk of a "jobless recovery" — the notion that unemployment will remain stubbornly high but flat as we slowly pull out of the longest recession since World War II.

For Florida, this is shaping up as a job-loss recovery, assuming the economy has in fact turned a corner. The state has lost about 400,000 jobs since last August, including 25,200 the last month alone, and the total number of people looking for work is now hovering at 1 million.

While the country's unemployment rate ticked down a notch in July to 9.4 percent, Florida's rate reached 10.7 percent, according to figures released Friday. That matches the upwardly revised figure of 10.7 percent for June, the highest rate in 34 years.

In the Tampa Bay area, unemployment rose slightly to 11.3 percent.

The list of hardest-hit industries has shifted. A dryup in construction jobs paved the way into the recession, but that was later supplanted by professional and business services. The latest report shows a new No. 1 in industry losses: transportation and utilities shed 99,100 jobs year over year, in part reflecting employment drops at auto dealers and parts shops.

A Florida economists' panel has predicted unemployment will peak at 11 percent and gradually recede starting in the second quarter of 2010.

The good news is that Florida's free fall appears to have ended, even if unemployment rises a bit more.

"People are still losing their jobs (but) the rate of decline has lessened. … The deterioration in the job market has moderated," Rebecca Rust, chief economist with the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, said in a conference call Friday.

The bad news: Rust doesn't expect Florida will see a more comfortable unemployment rate below 6 percent again until 2018.

In recent months, there have been growing signs nationally that the recession is ending, from an uptick in home sales to improved corporate profits. At the Federal Reserve's annual conference Friday in Wyoming, Chairman Ben Bernanke declared the country is on the verge of its long-awaited recovery. "The prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good," he said.

On the same day as Bernanke's speech, 26 states reported increases in unemployment in July. (Michigan's unemployment rate actually dropped two-tenths of a point but remained the highest at 15 percent).

In most recessions, unemployment continues to rise after a recovery is well under way. That's because many unemployed who had been sitting on the sidelines try to re-enter the work force when companies start hiring. That increases competition and drives up unemployment.

Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, doesn't think Florida has even entered that part of the cycle yet. Layoffs are still continuing, with grocer Albertson's on Friday indicating in a filing that it's laying off another 288 workers statewide.

The July report doesn't include Florida's biggest mass layoff so far this year. About 1,000 people lost their jobs when Ocala mortgage company Taylor Bean & Whitaker was forced to close earlier this month.

Job seekers can take heart, at least, that some of their competitors have given up.

Florida's labor pool has shrunk by 47,000 people over the last year, including 10,000 fewer people in June and July. Some of that is from people leaving the state and some reflects discouraged Floridians no longer actively looking for jobs.

Meanwhile, the record number of long-term jobless threatens to make any recovery a very slow process.

Since July 2, the state has paid about $207 million in extended unemployment insurance to more than 89,500 Floridians who otherwise would have exhausted their benefits.

Barring additional extensions approved by Congress, nearly 132,000 laid-off workers in Florida will have used up all their benefits by the end of the year, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Brown cited that as an example of how this recession differs from the economic downturns of 20 or 30 years ago. Employers used to prefer short-term furloughs so they could easily recall workers when business improves. Now permanent layoffs are more common, making it much tougher to get back into the work force.

"For many people, this recovery is going to feel a lot like it's still a recession," Brown said.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

Unemployment rates

County July 2009 June 2009 July 2008
Hernando 13.2 percent 13.2 percent 8.6 percent
Hillsborough 11.1 percent 10.9 percent 6.7 percent
Pasco 12.2 percent 12.3 percent 7.7 percent
Pinellas 11.0 percent 11.0 percent 6.5 percent
Highest:
Hendry
16.4 percent 14.0 percent 13.8 percent
Lowest:
Liberty
5.9 percent 5.7 percent 4.7 percent
Tampa Bay area 11.3 percent 11.2 percent 6.9 percent
Florida 10.7 percent 10.7 percent 6.3 percent
U.S. 9.4 percent 9.5 percent 5.8 percent

Source: Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Note: County and Tampa Bay area numbers are not seasonally adjusted; Florida and U.S. numbers are seasonally adjusted.

Out-of-work rates show Florida unemployment unchanged in July 08/21/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 24, 2009 9:50am]
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