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State report: Florida unemployment rate drop overstated

Florida's unemployment rate would stand at 9.5 percent — higher than the latest snapshot of 8.6 percent — if not for a huge drop in the labor force, according to a state report out Tuesday.

In fact, a whopping 69 percent of the drop in the unemployment rate so far this year is due to fewer people participating in the job market, not from jobs being created. The rate started the year at 9.9 percent.

That analysis from the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research gives more credence to arguments that Florida's jobs recovery this year has been largely overstated.

For months, economists have fretted that discouraged workers who have temporarily given up looking for jobs are masking the depth of Florida's unemployment chasm. Those who are neither in a job nor actively looking for work are not included in the labor pool and, therefore, not included in calculating the unemployment rate.

Throughout the year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has touted his efforts at job creation and bringing down Florida's unemployment rate at a faster pace than the national jobless rate retracted. Despite the big drop, Florida's unemployment rate remains above the national rate of 8.2 percent.

About 751,800 jobs have been lost since Florida's pre-recession employment peak. But rehiring to that level wouldn't be enough.

With Florida's prime working-age population (those ages 25 to 54) adding more than 2,600 people per month, "the hole is deeper than it looks," the analysis concluded. It would take 1 million jobs to get back to the same percentage of the Florida labor pool working as it was during the economic peak.

Florida's unemployment rate for June and a report on job creation are expected to be released Friday.

The jobs analysis was part of a broader economic overview released by the EDR that indicated the state's slow recovery is continuing. Among highlights:

• General revenue has come in stronger than expected, running about $400 million above forecasts for the first half of the year.

• The state's personal income growth of 0.7 percent in the first quarter was close to the national average of 0.8 percent.

• Population growth remains the "primary engine" of the state's economic growth. Population growth is expected to stay relatively flat for a few years, then average just over 1 percent annually between 2025 and 2030.

• Florida housing is "generally improving," with home prices rising off the bottom. But existing home sales are still sputtering and foreclosure filings remain daunting, with the average foreclosure taking 861 days to wind through the system.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay.com.

State report: Florida unemployment rate drop overstated 07/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 11:17pm]
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