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Florida's unemployment rate falls sharply to 10.3 percent

Florida's jobs machine, for a change, was clicking on all cylinders in October.

The unemployment rate dropped sharply, from 10.6 percent to 10.3 percent, reaching the lowest level in 28 months.

Florida gained a net 9,500 jobs over the month, meaning it's now up 93,900 jobs compared to a year ago.

And, in perhaps the most elusive piece of the puzzle, the labor pool is growing again. The labor pool, a measure of how many people either have a job or are looking for one, grew by 10,000 last month.

For most of this year, more Floridians had been dropping out of the labor pool every month. Some of that was because of retirement or disability, but some of those dropouts are discouraged workers who had temporarily stopped their job search.

Many of those discouraged workers are expected to re-enter the labor market at some point, driving up both competition and unemployment. The October boost aside, the labor pool is still down by 28,000 jobs compared to a year ago.

However, to see more people entering the workforce in the same month that unemployment falls is certainly encouraging, said Rebecca Rust, chief economist with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

An uptick in jobs came despite aggressive cost-cutting in state and local governments. In fact, government is the second biggest job-loser over the year, trailing only the long-suffering construction industry which shed another 4,800 jobs in October alone.

But job gainers far outnumbered losers.

Leisure and hospitality continued to be the strongest industry, followed by private education and health care. Professional and business services also posted another strong month. Even financial activities and manufacturing, two areas that have struggled to pull out of the recession, were back in the black. The addition of 1,900 manufacturing jobs was the industry's first increase since June, Rust said.

Gov. Rick Scott, who took office in January, cited the report as evidence his agenda of cutting government jobs and slashing regulations is working.

"As we head into the holiday season, it's great to see we continue to move in the right direction," he said in a prepared statement.

Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, likewise said the report was more positive than he had seen for a long time. But he took exception with the governor's explanations.

"I still don't understand how firing government workers improves the employment picture," Brown said, suggesting a rebound in tourism and more private education and lower-paying health care jobs were behind the better numbers.

Florida's employment picture tends to look brighter between October and December, thanks to seasonal hiring in retail and tourism as well as more agricultural jobs.

"We're muddling along," Brown said. "If we were at full employment, this kind of job growth would be great. The fact we have so much ground to make up, we'd really like to see much better improvement."

Since peaking at 12 percent last December, Florida's jobless rate has slowly and steadily crept down. However, it still remains substantially higher than the national rate of 9 percent and nowhere near what would be considered a more healthy rate of 6 percent or below.

All 67 counties posted lower unemployment rates in October.

The Tampa Bay area also enjoyed a significant drop, with its rate falling to 10.3 percent, down from 10.8 percent in September.

Among area counties, Pinellas was the sole one to finally fall into the single digits with a 9.9 percent unemployment rate, down from 10.3 percent a month ago. Unlike national and state figures, regional estimates are not seasonally adjusted for hiring patterns, so they tend to fluctuate more widely month to month.

Tampa Bay added only 800 jobs during the month — just a fraction of the job growth in south Florida. But the bay area still led all metro areas in annual job growth, up 24,100 jobs since October, 2010.

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

County-by-county unemployment rates

Region October 2011 September 2011 October 2010

Citrus 11 % 11.6 % 12.7 %

Hernando 13 % 13.5 % 14.7 %

Hillsborough 10 % 10.5 % 11.7 %

Pasco 11.3 % 11.7 % 12.9 %

Pinellas 9.9 % 10.3 % 11.7 %

Hendry (highest) 16.1 % 17.6 % 17.6 %

Liberty (lowest) 6.3 % 6.9 % 6.8 %

Monroe (lowest) 6.3 % 6.7 % 7.7 %

Tampa Bay* 10.3 % 10.8 % 12 %

Florida 10.3 % 10.6 % 11.8 %

Nation 9 % 9.1 % 9.9 %

*Combines Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties

Note: County and Tampa Bay area numbers are not seasonally adjusted. Florida and U.S. numbers are seasonally adjusted.

Source: Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

Florida's unemployment rate falls sharply to 10.3 percent 11/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2011 6:26pm]

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