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Florida unemployment rate declines slightly in December, ends 2015 at 5 percent

Published Jan. 23, 2016

Florida's unemployment rate inched down to 5 percent in December, keeping pace with the national economy.

That was a slight decrease from November's revised unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, the Department of Economic Opportunity said Friday.

The number of Floridians without jobs drifted downward throughout 2015, and the state's labor market kept pace with the rest of the national economy for much of the year. Joblessness in Florida matched the U.S. rate in December, and each declined from 5.7 percent in January.

The state added 21,900 jobs in December, for an increase of 233,100 for the year.

The Tampa Bay area led Florida in job growth last year, adding 38,800 jobs. Unemployment across the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area was among the state's lowest, dropping to 4.4 percent.

The year's job gains statewide centered on the service sector. Leading the charge were professional and business services (51,100 additional jobs); education and health services (44,700); leisure and hospitality (43,800); trade, transportation and utilities (39,600); and construction (28,500).

Two sectors lost jobs: Government agencies shed 5,800 jobs, and the information industry lost 1,900 jobs.

December's robust figures rounded out a strong end to the year despite uncertainty elsewhere in the global economy, said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness. And it gives the state a strong starting point for 2016.

"We had a pretty solid launching pad to start 2016, and I would expect that momentum to carry forward," Snaith said.

Recent surveys suggest that Floridians are feeling better about their personal finances than they did a year ago, but their outlook for the national economy is more tepid. The Florida Consumer Sentiment Index rose in 2015, boosted by Floridians' rosier outlooks for their finances even as their sense of the U.S. economy was mostly unchanged.

Headwinds in the global economy such as plummeting oil prices and China's slowing economy could send ripples to Florida, which is heavily dependent on service sector and tourism jobs that rely on economic strength elsewhere. Currencies in Canada and Brazil, which supply many of the state's visitors, have declined in value, raising questions for the tourism industry, Snaith said.

Contact Thad Moore at tmoore@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3434. Follow @thadmoore.

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