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Florida's jobless rate climbs after Hurricane Ian

The devastation on Fort Myers Beach is clear in a view south of Matanzas Pass Preserve.
Thomas James for WGCU
The devastation on Fort Myers Beach is clear in a view south of Matanzas Pass Preserve. Florida saw an uptick in its unemployment rate in October after deadly Hurricane Ian swept through Southwest Florida, while the labor force continues to grow, according to numbers released Friday.

October's jobless rate was 2.7%, up from a historic low of 2.5% in September.

Florida saw an uptick in its unemployment rate in October after deadly Hurricane Ian swept through Southwest Florida, while the labor force continues to grow, according to numbers released Friday.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity said the unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in October, up from a historic low of 2.5 percent in September. The report estimated that 285,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed in October, an increase of 19,000 from September. The civilian labor force grew for the 10th consecutive month and was at 10.75 million.

In a news release, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration said economic data “continues to show strength,” even with the damage from Hurricane Ian.

“Florida’s economic resiliency is unmatched in the country,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “No other state could withstand the direct impact of a Category 4 hurricane and continue to grow jobs in the same month.”

Florida was one of 24 states where unemployment rates increased, with Pennsylvania the only state posting a decrease between September and October, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

With wages up and consumer spending on goods and services slightly over expectations, the U.S. added 261,000 jobs in October, with the national unemployment rate at 3.7 percent.

Jimmy Heckman, chief of workforce statistics and economic research at the Department of Economic Opportunity, said Ian might have accounted for part of the rate increase but said the jobs numbers in hard-hit areas of Southwest Florida are “relatively small compared to the entire state.”

“Florida has really, really strong labor force growth that has been very consistent since the beginning of 2021, really," Heckman told reporters in a conference call Friday.

Heckman said he couldn’t estimate how long it might take for employment in Southwest Florida to recover.

“With Hurricane Charley, that hit the same area back in 2004, we see a recovery where the job numbers returned to pre-hurricane levels within a couple of months,” Heckman said. “We also have examples like Hurricane Michael that hit the Panama City MSA (metropolitan statistical area) and the areas surrounding (in 2018), where that recovery took a lot longer. I think even kind of into 2022 we were still seeing some sectors that were below their pre-hurricane Michael employment levels.”

The Sept. 28 hurricane made landfall in Lee and Charlotte counties before moving across the state. Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Collier counties posted increases in unemployment claims, with Lee County’s rate going from 2.6 percent in September to 3.9 percent in October.

Charlotte County went from 3 percent in September to 4 percent in October.

Heckman noted that the four Southwest Florida counties, which depend heavily on tourism, see seasonal decreases in unemployment as winter approaches.

The governor’s office pointed to the private sector adding 35,000 jobs from September to October, the 30th consecutive month Florida has posted increases in jobs created.

U.S. Department of Labor data showed that jobless claims jumped immediately after Ian landfall but have returned to a pace similar to before the storm. The 2.7 percent rate in October was 1 percentage point lower than a year earlier.

Statewide, the latest figures show the leisure and hospitality sector grew by 14,100 jobs from September to October. Over the past year, that sector has increased by 96,200 jobs.

Among metropolitan statistical areas, the lowest unemployment rates in October were in the Panama City, Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach areas, each at 2.3 percent.

The Jacksonville area was at 2.5 percent. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Pensacola areas were at 2.6 percent, while the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford region was at 2.8 percent.

The highest rate was in the Sebring area at 4.3 percent, a 0.2 percentage-point increase from September.

The statewide unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted, while the regional rates are not.