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  1. Florida Politics

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

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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