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Florida’s jobless rate continued to drop in January

According to state figures released Monday, Florida’s unemployment rate was lower than the national rate in January.
Florida's jobless rate declined in January. Pictured is a job applicant at a job fair in September 2020. [Times (2020)]
Florida's jobless rate declined in January. Pictured is a job applicant at a job fair in September 2020. [Times (2020)] [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Mar. 15
Updated Mar. 15

As Florida entered its second calendar year of the pandemic, the state’s economy showed further signs of improvement but continued to founder in many areas.

The Sunshine State’s unemployment rate dropped by less than 1 percent in January to 4.8 percent, according to state figures released Monday. It was well below the national unemployment rate for the same month, which was 6.3 percent.

The state lost about 800 jobs from December 2020 to January.

“The economy is definitely in recovery mode,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James Financial. “But we still have a very, very long way to go to get back to where we want to be in the labor market.”

Monday’s state figures were released as part of an annual “benchmarking” process that includes revising numbers for the prior year when the state has more accurate information. Because of the “unprecedented economic changes” in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics changed its statistical models, which accounts for many of the changes, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said.

What the dipping unemployment rate doesn’t account for is people who have left the workforce during the pandemic, said University of Florida economist Christopher McCarty. Florida’s labor force participation rate was 57 percent in January, down 3 percent from the same month a year ago. Nationally, it was about 61 percent.

“There has been a big issue with the labor force participation rate plummeting, and it fell sharply during (COVID-19),” he said.“Even before (COVID-19), we’ve been running behind the nation as a whole and still haven’t recovered.”

All of the state’s 10 major industries lost jobs in January compared to the same month last year, with leisure and hospitality shedding the most (284,100 jobs, down 22 percent) because of the pandemic.That sector also lost the greatest number of jobs between December 2020 and Januar y (9,800 positions).

Trade, transportation and utilities lost the second-largest number of jobs over the year (74,400 jobs, down about 4 percent), followed by education and health services (55,500 jobs, down about 4 percent) and government (52,600 jobs, down 4.6 percent).

Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, up more than 1 percent from December. Hillsborough County’s jobless rate jumped to 4.6 percent from 3.4 percent, Hernando County increased to 5.6 percent from 4.1 percent, Pinellas County rose to 4.4 percent from 3.3 percent and Pasco County jumped to 4.9 percent from 3.6 percent.

The bay area ranked just below the middle of the pack compared to other Florida metro areas for unemployment. Miami topped the list at 8.1 percent unemployment, followed by Homosassa Springs (6.3 percent). Naples had the lowest unemployment of any metro area in Florida at 3.9 percent.

In the immediate term, Raymond James’ Brown said, the federal fiscal stimulus is expected to cushion the economic burden on those hit hardest through individual checks and the extensions on unemployment insurance benefits.

But getting back to pre-pandemic levels of unemployment and economic strength still largely depend on the vaccine rollout and tourism returning.

“With Florida, the big missing piece here is a healthy tourism sector,” said Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida.

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