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Officials say Florida's declining jobless rate points to 'steady growth'

A Marshalls retail store displays a Now Hiring sign during the new coronavirus pandemic in Miami on May 7, 2020. Florida plans to stop providing $300 a week in additional federal unemployment benefits as it pushes for people to return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lynne Sladky
A Marshalls retail store displays a Now Hiring sign during the new coronavirus pandemic in Miami on May 7, 2020.

The rate fell to 4.4%, meaning 466,000 Floridians now qualify as jobless. Gov. DeSantis says it shows economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida’s jobless rate dipped to 4.4% in December as state officials pointed to “steady growth” in the employment picture.

The Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday announced the December rate, down from 4.5% in November. The December rate represented 466,000 Floridians qualifying as jobless from a workforce now at 10.66 million.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, during an appearance in Sarasota, touted the state’s economic conditions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“Because we have been a free state, because we have protected people’s rights to work and run businesses, we’ve really been in great shape,” DeSantis said. “When you look at the budget, we have had huge amounts of revenue coming in.”

The new unemployment figures show the state had regained 92.1% of the 1.27 million jobs lost in the early stages of the pandemic from February 2020 through April 2020. The recapture rate stood at 91.2% in November and 86.6% in October.

“What I would consider here is that we are seeing steady growth,” Adrienne Johnston, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s chief economist, told reporters in a conference call. “We saw fast gains early on. And now we're going to continue to see steady increases in employment. So, this is more like the trend was prior to the pandemic. And to me, that's a healthy sign of a growing economy.”

Johnston said that with businesses continuing to add to their payrolls and with growth in high-wage industries, “that is a strong picture for 2021 and I think sets us up really well for a strong 2022.”

Florida’s unemployment rate was higher than the national mark of 3.9% announced on Jan. 7. In December 2019, before the pandemic, First-time jobless claims have averaged 7,265 a week since mid-May, when the state increased efforts to push people back into the workforce during the pandemic.

State officials continue to hear complaints from businesses — and government agencies — about having difficulty finding workers. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Jan. 4 that Americans have been quitting jobs at a record pace as job openings approach record highs.

Johnston said the number of people leaving jobs in Florida has increased for nine consecutive months.

“This indicates that individuals are more optimistic about their ability to find work if they leave their current job,” Johnston said.

The leisure and hospitality fields, which took the biggest hit from the pandemic, posted the largest number of new jobs, 142,600, in the past year.

Jobs tied to trade, transportation, and utilities added 91,300 jobs in 2021. Education and health services were up 51,900, financial activities added 30,400 and construction added 20,400.

Across the state, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan statistical area had the lowest jobless rate in December at 2.6 percent. The region was one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic.

The next-lowest rate was in the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area at 2.7%, followed by the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin area at 2.9%.

The tourism-heavy Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area was at 3.8%.

The Jacksonville area stood at 3.2% in December. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Panama City areas were at 3.3%. The Pensacola area was at 3.4%. The Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach area was at 3.8%.

The highest unemployment rates were found in The Villages, Sebring and Homosassa Springs metro areas, each at 4.7 percent. The metro rates were not seasonally adjusted, while the statewide mark was adjusted.

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