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  1. Business

White House's top economic adviser trumpets Tampa Bay's job growth

With his State of the Union speech less than two weeks away, President Barack Obama has been stressing how well the economic recovery has gone so far and rolling out new initiatives to keep it going.

This includes proposing a program to pay the tuition of many community college students, reducing the costs of Federal Housing Administration loans and renewing the call for a higher minimum wage.

On Friday, the White House tried to bring its economic message home, specifically to Tampa Bay.

Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers at the White House, said helping pay for community college classes — an idea that needs congressional approval — could be a big wage boost in a place like Tampa Bay. "(It) could put you in a position to get a job in nursing or pharmaceuticals that would pay more than a job in leisure or hospitality," he said.

"Tampa, like the country as a whole, still faces a number of challenges," he said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, "but the unemployment rate has come back down. … We're not all the way there, but we're getting closer.

"There's a big difference between an unemployment rate of 12 percent, which is what you Tampa had in 2010, and an unemployment rate of 6 percent, which it has now."

Furman, conducting a smattering of media interviews in advance of the president's Jan. 20 State of the Union speech, stayed on message: namely, highlighting the upside of Friday's jobs report.

That latest snapshot showed that the country in 2014 posted the strongest job growth since 1999, with the unemployment rate falling at the fastest pace in three decades.

Among other topics, Furman rejected Gov. Rick Scott's argument that Florida's economic recovery has been tethered to tax-cutting, pro-Republican policies.

"When you look at the states more broadly, you don't see a patter of states with a Republican governor cutting taxes doing better than states with a Democratic governor," he said.

Rather, he attributes Florida's strong job growth to the rebound of the housing market. Just as Florida was hit harder by the housing bust than most states, its rebound has been stronger, he said.

Tampa Bay's jobless rate had fallen to 5.8 percent as of November. The December report for Florida and its metro areas is slated to come out Jan. 23.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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