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Florida unemployment drops again, to 6.4%

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Published:   |   Updated: December 20, 2013 at 05:22 PM

TAMPA — Florida’s jobless rate continued to tumble in November to 6.4 percent, more than half a percentage point better than the nation overall.

Some of the state’s improvement can be chalked up to a technicality. So many people have given up looking for work and dropped out of the labor force or simply retired that it has artificially lowered the unemployment rate. Critics of Gov. Rick Scott, who frequently touts the state’s unemployment rate improvement, often bring this up.

However, economists on Friday said this technicality can’t explain all of Florida’s improvement and that the state’s economy simply is gaining steam.

Florida fell into a deeper hole than most other states after the housing crash, Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner said, “but the last year and the last couple years have seen a lot of things finally break Florida’s way.”

The Sunshine State’s jobless rate fell last month to its current rate of 6.4 percent from 6.7 percent in October and from 8 percent a year ago. By comparison, the nation’s jobless rate is 7 percent, the state Department of Economic Opportunity said Friday.

The agency touted the pace of job growth in October and November, which it said was the fastest since June 2006. Since November 2012, the number of jobs in Florida has risen by 183,100, an increase of 2.5 percent. The state added a more modest 6,100 jobs in the one-month period from October to November, a 0.1-percent jump.

The unemployment rate also fell in the Tampa Bay area to 6.2 percent last month from 6.4 percent in October and from 8.1 percent a year ago, DEO figures show.

The Bay area continues to lead the state in job growth, although that’s partly because it also has one of largest populations among metro areas. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area added 39,300 jobs over the past year, which is up 3.3 percent.

How much of the unemployment rate improvement is tied to labor force dropouts has been a big source of debate in the past year in Florida and nationwide. From December 2011 to this past October, Florida’s unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent from 9.4 percent. The Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research recently estimated that 59.3 percent of that drop is related to people dropping out of the labor force or delaying entrance into it.

Scott Brown, an economist for Raymond James Financial, said it’s odd that Florida’s population grew by 1.4 percent over the past year, but the size of its labor force fell by 0.1 percent.

Still, Brown said, “The drop in the unemployment rate exaggerates the improvement, but we’re definitely seeing the job market picking up.”

msasso@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7865

Twitter: @msasso

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