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

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn touts drop in unemployment rate

TAMPA — By most accounts, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn had a good week showing off his home city at the Republican National Convention.

But how did the Democratic mayor fare on the Truth-O-Meter?

During brief welcoming remarks to RNC delegates Tuesday, Buckhorn eschewed his political views and focused on Tampa's improving economy.

"We are leading Florida out of the recession," he said. "Unemployment is declining faster here than almost anywhere else."

We wanted to know if unemployment is declining faster in Tampa than anywhere else.

A note: Buckhorn didn't say if he meant anywhere in Florida or anywhere in the nation during his speech. But in an interview, Buckhorn provided nationwide data, so that's what we checked.

We turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government agency that tracks employment data, for more details. We looked at the latest data Buckhorn had available to him when he spoke.

The agency, it turns out, doesn't measure unemployment in "Tampa" as Buckhorn described but rather the metro area of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The unemployment rate in the Tampa metro area dropped 2.2 percentage points from June 2011 through June 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That tied for the second-largest decline among 49 large metro areas with a population of at least 1 million people.

(New data released Wednesday changed the 12-month decline in unemployment from 11.3 percent to 9.4 percent for the year ending in July. At a difference of 1.9 percentage points, it is the highest of all major metro areas. It is tied for 11th if you include smaller metro areas.)

Even though construction jobs continued to languish, the area posted notable over-the-year gains in leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

It's also worth noting that the unemployment rate in the Tampa area remains higher than the national and state averages. Also, the unemployment rate does not account for Florida's contracted labor force, which is smaller now because people have given up on finding work.

The Florida Legislature's economic research agency found that nearly 70 percent of the drop in Florida's unemployment rate can be attributed to a shrinking workforce, not new jobs. The unemployment rate would be much higher had the workforce held steady, stated the August 2012 report.

"I would say nationally and statewide we want the unemployment rate to come down, but not because the labor force is shrinking," said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist.

Economists say an increased unemployment rate actually could be a better economic indicator because it may signal that discouraged workers are coming back to the labor force.

Still, Snaith said, "there's some real growth in (the Tampa area), granted we know it's not been everything that it should be or could be."

Our ruling

Buckhorn said that the unemployment rate is declining faster in Tampa "than almost anywhere else."

We have a few quibbles with that. Buckhorn could have been more clear that he was referring to a part of the Tampa Bay area and that the statistic only measures major metropolitan areas.

Also, the real story behind a declining rate isn't always so cheery. It doesn't account for discouraged workers, which are the biggest drivers behind Florida's falling rate.

On the flip side, he gives himself some cover with use of the word "almost," and the metro area has seen a significant dip in the unemployment rate.

On balance, we rate this claim Mostly True.

PolitiFact Florida is partnering with 10 News for the 2012 election. See video fact-checks at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

The unemployment rate is declining faster in Tampa "than almost anywhere else."

Bob Buckhorn, in a speech at the Republican National Convention

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Mostly True
Buckhorn could have more clear that he was referring to a part of the Tampa Bay area and that the statistic only measures major metropolitan areas. And it's important to note that a falling unemployment rate doesn't always mean an improving economy. Still, we think he's largely right on the statistic. We rate his claim Mostly True.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn touts drop in unemployment rate 09/02/12 [Last modified: Sunday, September 2, 2012 9:59pm]

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