Florida posted mixed results on the job front in December, with its unemployment rate dipping slightly to a four-year low of 8 percent, while the number of jobs statewide also dropped, according to figures released Friday.
The state lost 15,300 jobs over the month, down 0.2 percent. Over the past year, the job count is still up 54,900. But job growth lags well behind population growth, as the state's 16-and-up population grew by nearly four times that amount.
The unemployment rate and job count are drawn from different surveys of households and businesses and aren't always in synch.
Florida's unemployment rate has fallen dramatically, down from 9.9 percent a year ago and a peak of 11.4 percent in early 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession.
Gov. Rick Scott, who was in Miami for an event, cited the drop in the unemployment rate as an indication "the changes we are making to improve our state's business climate are helping Florida families pursue the American dream."
"Trends show that we are also experiencing growth in many different economic indicators that are key to job creation," he said in a prepared statement. "Housing starts are on the rise, businesses and families continue to move to Florida and more jobs are being created."
Florida still trails the national jobless rate of 7.8 percent and remains well off a rate below 6 percent that would mark a healthy economy.
Reaching that healthy state could take a long time given the nation's economic recovery lost momentum at the end of 2012 and "the recovery stumbled out of the gate in 2013," said University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith.
"Today's report is a reminder of the difficult path that still lies ahead of Florida," Snaith said. "Growth this weak is simply insufficient to spark a robust recovery in the labor market."
Moreover, there are consistent concerns that the unemployment drop so far is overstated, failing to account for thousands of discouraged Floridians who have stopped looking for work and are no longer counted in unemployment statistics. Include the discouraged job seekers and part-timers who would prefer full-time work — a measure known as underemployment — and the rate would be roughly twice as high.
That dynamic appeared to hold true last month as well: The state's 16-and-up, non-institutionalized population grew by 18,000 last month while the labor force shrank by 7,000. It's unclear how much of the drop was from retirees and others who are unlikely to re-enter the labor force at some point.
Tampa Bay continues to lead the state in job growth overall, up 21,000 jobs over the past year.
The bay area's unemployment rate fell from an adjusted 8.2 percent in November to 7.9 percent last month. Unlike state and national figures, local and regional jobless rates are not seasonally adjusted for employment spikes and slumps in fields like agriculture and education, so they tend to fluctuate more month to month.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay,.com or (727) 893-8242.