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Unemployment leap to 7.6% a bad sign for Florida

As employers slashed nearly 600,000 jobs in January, the country's unemployment catapulted from 7.2 percent to 7.6 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The report, marking the third month in a row that the deterioration of jobs was worse than expected, puts pressure on President Obama and Congress to accelerate delivery of a federal stimulus spending package.

It also sets the stage for a grim Florida jobs roundup slated to come out in two weeks. In recent months, Florida's unemployment rate has been tracking at roughly a percentage point higher than the national average.

Florida's December unemployment rate was 8.1 percent, while the Tampa Bay area's rate reached 8.3 percent, the highest for a major metro area in the state.

"For your typical worker, it's still pretty bleak out there, and I think Florida is still going to be worse than the nation as a whole," said Scott Brown, an economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg.

Economists have forecast that Florida may see its unemployment rate reach 9 or 10 percent this year. "We're right in the middle of it," Brown said.

The good news: Investors had been bracing for a bad report and the markets rose on expectations that a stimulus plan was moving ahead and a new framework for the next bank bailout plan will be released Monday.

The loss of 598,000 jobs last month was the most since the end of 1974. Economists had been expecting a loss of 524,000 jobs and an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.

The unemployment rate continued to trend upward in January for adult men (7.6 percent), adult women (6.2 percent), whites (6.9 percent), blacks (12.6 percent) and Hispanics (9.7 percent). The jobless rate for teenagers was steady at 20.8 percent.

Job cuts were across the board, with factories axing 207,000 positions in January, the largest one-month drop since October 1982. The other industries posting the biggest number of job losses are all key facets of Florida's economy: construction (111,000 job cuts); professional and business services (121,000 jobs); retailers (45,000 jobs); and leisure and hospitality (28,000 jobs).

All told, the economy has lost 3.6 million jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007, half of that total in the past three months.

Not included in that tally are about 2.1 million people who the Labor Department views as marginally attached to the labor force in January. That figure, up 400,000 from a year ago, includes people who are considered available for positions but have not been actively looking in the past four weeks.

According to one measure, if part-time employees, discouraged workers and others are factored in, the unemployment rate would have been 13.9 percent in January.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at harrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

Unemployment leap to 7.6% a bad sign for Florida 02/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 11:41pm]
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