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  1. Florida Politics

Falling unemployment rate aside, numbers don't add up yet for Florida's recovery

Published Oct. 17, 2015

By the numbers, just how strong is Florida's economy?

Home in on the popular bottom-line number that many gravitate to — the unemployment rate — and there's reason for encouragement.

Florida's jobless rate fell from 5.4 percent to a seven-year low of 5.2 percent in September, according to figures released Friday. In Tampa Bay, unemployment dropped from 5.3 percent to 5 percent, a level last seen more than a year before George W. Bush turned over the Oval Office to Barack Obama.

Economists used to say once unemployment tumbled to 5 percent or lower, it would signal full recovery, or close to it.

Times have changed. An unemployment stat is no longer the over-arching barometer. Rather, economists now are trying to gauge the quality of jobs created and related wages, the number of part-timers unable to find full-time work and how many discouraged jobless have given up looking so they're no longer counted in the broadly used unemployment rate.

"Obviously, this was a gigantic recession. So even though we're six years into this recovery, for many people it still feels like a recession," said Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg.

The good news is Florida has climbed a long way out of the Great Recession already, adding a total of 235,700 jobs over the past year alone. But there are quite a few other numbers that indicate the Sunshine State is far from economically vibrant:

• 2,100 — Jobs added statewide between August and September, relatively meager for the country's third-biggest state and far below the level of job creation last year and earlier this year.

In his monthly jobs announcement, Gov. Rick Scott stuck to a consistent theme that only the private sector matters as he highlighted businesses adding 8,700 new jobs last month. Left unsaid: the loss of 6,600 government jobs between August and September, 4,300 of them in local government.

• 77,000 — That's how much Florida's labor force has shrunken over the past year despite the state's 16-and-up population growing by a whopping 264,000 over the same time. Some who have left the labor force are retirees (including early retirees) who are not coming back; but economists say that also includes discouraged job seekers who have just temporarily left the labor market.

• 100 — Jobs lost in Tampa Bay last month even as its unemployment rate dropped three-tenths of a percent. It's not unusual to have a disconnect on unemployment and job numbers as they're drawn from two different surveys — one from households and the other from employers.

• 50,200 and 3,500 — The first is the number of jobs added this past year in education and health services, which skew toward lower-paying work. The second is the number of jobs added in higher-paying manufacturing. Only government added fewer jobs over the year, while information is the only category still losing jobs.

• 45 percent — How much of the 28,500 jobs added in Tampa Bay over the year that are in the lower-paying leisure and hospitality field.

• 71 percent — How many Floridians in a recent USF-Nielsen survey who said they continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession.

Contact Jeff Harrington at jharrington@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8242. Follow @JeffMHarrington.

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