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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

Florida's national unemployment ranking isn't so clear-cut

The statement

Says Rick Scott's record on jobs includes Florida "ranked second in the nation in long-term unemployment."

Charlie Crist, April 25 on his campaign website

The ruling

Crist's claim linked to a February article in the Orlando Sentinel that cited analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. The EPI calculated that 46.2 percent of laid-off Floridians were out of work for at least six months in 2013. Only New Jersey and Washington, D.C., were higher, at 46.6 percent.

We interviewed David Cooper, the economic analyst at the EPI, who wrote the post in January that included a state-by-state map showing long-term unemployment.

Cooper said he used the monthly data released by the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics to calculate the share of those unemployed 27 weeks or longer by state.

The Current Population Survey, on which the BLS bases its data, is a sample representative for the nation. But when the data is used to drill down to the state level, the margin of error goes up significantly, Cooper said. And drill down even further to those who are long-term unemployed, and "again the margins of error go up even more."

So while Cooper found Florida was in second or third (since New Jersey and D.C. were tied), the margin of error is large enough that it could fall anywhere from the second- to seventh-place range, he said.

"Florida is clearly near the top, (but) where it sits in order is kind of ambiguous," he said.

We sent the EPI report to a few Florida economists. While they didn't dispute the EPI's numbers, economists noted that there are other ways to measure long-term unemployment.

"The figures provided by EPI are the percent of the unemployed that are long-term unemployed, not the percent of the labor force that are long-term unemployed," said Rollins College economist Bill Seyfried. So that will lead to different rankings, because one starts with the pool of unemployed, while the other looks at the entire labor force.

Seyfried looked at long-term unemployed divided by size of labor force and determined that Florida came in 11th in 2013.

University of Florida economist David Denslow added some caveats to the EPI's data: Unemployment data is difficult to measure because people may not accurately report whether they are actively seeking work and how long they have been unemployed. Also, he said the sample size is small.

"We don't know just where Florida ranks in those data, since the margins of error are too large," Denslow said. "But it is highly likely that Florida is one of the top 10."

Crist's statement could be interpreted as blaming Scott for the long-term unemployment figures.

Economists we interviewed said that governors can take steps to influence employment, but there are other national economic trends at play that can't be blamed (or credited) to any one particular politician.

We rate this claim Half True.

Amy Sherman, PolitiFact Florida

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

Florida's national unemployment ranking isn't so clear-cut 05/08/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2014 6:33pm]
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