Sunday, May 27, 2018
Politics

PolitiFact Florida on falling jobless claims and Gov. Rick Scott

A radio host recently asked Gov. Rick Scott for an update on his trademark 7-7-7 plan — creating 700,000 jobs in seven years in seven steps.

Scott said Florida's economy is getting better in a lot of ways.

"We're doing well. We're at a three-year low on our unemployment in this state. … We generated around 100,000 net jobs so far, if you look at the federal numbers," he said in the April interview with Orlando-based station WDBO. "But if you look at the state numbers, about 230,000 people that were on unemployment when I took office are not on unemployment now.

"When you look around the state, tourism is up, the home market's up, home sales are up, home prices are up. … So good things are happening, but we still have 900,000 people out of work," he said.

What stuck out to us is his claim that 230,000 fewer people receive unemployment benefits than when he took office 15 months ago. That sounds like a drastic decrease, which Scott is taking credit for and in turn using as evidence that the state's economy is improving.

A spokeswoman with the state's Department of Economic Opportunity, the agency that manages the unemployment compensation program, responded to our request about Scott's claim. Spokeswoman Nancy Blum said the number of people receiving unemployment compensation dropped from 561,736 on Jan. 31, 2011, to 345,052 on March 31, 2012. That's a total decline of 216,684.

That's pretty close to "about 230,000," which is the number Scott offered.

Whether Scott is right to take credit for the decline — and whether that is translating to a better Florida economy — is more complicated.

In 2011 and 2012, Scott and Florida lawmakers made changes to the state's unemployment compensation program that generally make it harder for people to receive benefits. Among them:

• Claims must be filed online.

• Applicants must complete a 45-question initial workplace skills review before receiving the first check (the 2012 law requires a numeric score).

• Recipients must either prove they contacted five prospective employers each week or meet with a career representative at a one-stop employment center.

• The department tied the maximum number of weeks to the unemployment rate, so that the number of weeks decreases with the rate and vice versa. The maximum number of weeks fell from 26 to 23.

• The state is no longer required to resolve doubtful cases in favor of claimants, and the use of hearsay in appeals cases is expanded.

• It's easier to be disqualified based on a broadened definition of a misconduct that resulted in a lost job, and applies to some misconduct outside a job.

In fact, since August 2011, the department has denied 131,115 applicants for failing to comply with the new law, mostly for failing to fulfill the work search or the initial skills assessment.

Those denials resulted in a $30.3 million savings.

Economists said Scott's number, while accurate, isn't necessarily a great economic measure on its own. They also said it's too soon to tell if Florida's more stringent eligibility requirements play a big role in the declining number of recipients. Part of the drop-off could be attributed to people whose benefits have expired. Since December 2011, 30,600 people have exhausted all state and federal unemployment benefits, according to the department.

"So far I haven't been able to see any hard data or evidence to quantify (either) effect," said Mekael Teshome, PNC Financial Services Group economist.

What's more relevant, Teshome said, is that jobless claims have been coming down since their peak in mid 2009, well before Scott took office.

If you started counting in 2010 instead of 2011 when Scott took office, even fewer people — 300,770 — are receiving unemployment benefits. Some experts also pointed to the contracting size of the labor force, which helps to lower the unemployment rate but also indicates some people are no longer looking for work.

Let's review:

Scott's claim that 230,000 fewer people are receiving unemployment benefits than when he entered office is pretty close to the actual drop (216,684).

But the figure is not completely an indicator that the economy is improving, as Scott suggests, and is somewhat the result of a strict new state law. Also, the trend of jobless claims started falling in mid 2009, more than a year before Scott took office. That undercuts, to a point, the suggestion Scott should get the credit.

Scott's statement is accurate but can use some additional information. That's our definition of Mostly True.

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