Florida Economists Say Unemployment Will Remain Above Eight Percent Through 2016

Jul 27, 2012

In recent weeks, there’s been lots of conflicting information coming out from the state. There is agreement that Florida’s economy is growing—but officials disagree on what’s contributing to that growth and whether or not it will continue.

Florida’s unemployment rate stalled last month at 8.6 percent. The lackluster jobs report coincided with Governor Rick Scott’s announcement that two new businesses are coming to Florida:

WAWA convenience stores opened its first stories in Orlando and plans to expand to over 100 Central Florida stores in the next five years. Digital Risk, a company already operating in the state, announced it was expanding its operations and adding high paying jobs.”  

But there will have to be a whole lot more Digital Risks and WAWA’s to ease Florida’s thirst for more jobs. Once you take away the continued job losses in key industries like construction, government and telecommunications there was a net gain of 9,000 new jobs created in June. But there are still more than 795,000 Floridians out of work:

“We don’t yet have all our industries gaining. During the recession all of them were negative during the Recession all were negative except healthcare. But now, six are gaining: professional business services tops the list with the most new jobs. Trade, transportation and utilities is second, third is private education and healthcare, Fourth is leisure and hospitality, fifth is financial activities and sixth is manufacturing,” said state economist Rebecca Rust.

Governor Scott has made boosting job opportunities his priority. When he took office In January 2011, the unemployment rate was more than 11 percent. Today, it’s 8.6 percent. The governor has built his entire policy agenda around job growth. But Florida’s own legislative research office says some of the Governor’s jobs policies may be backfiring.

Under state changes, it’s now harder for people to get unemployment benefits and they can keep them for a shorter amount of time.  That means people no longer eligible for benefits but still without jobs may not be fully counted in the unemployment figures. And according to the report, many people have been so discouraged by the economy, they’ve given up. The state knows this, because it asked them.

“The way the unemployment rate statistics are produced is through a household survey through the U.S. Census bureau. They go to individual households, they have laptop computers, and they interview the residents of the household,” said Rust.

Based on those responses the legislature’s research body concluded that Florida’s 8.6-percent unemployment rate should be almost a percentage point higher. But state’s leaders aren’t too dissuaded by the stats.

“Last month and the month before, we’re seeing an uptick in private sector jobs. CEO magazine ranked Florida as the 2nd best state to do business, nationally—that’s fantastic. And why is that? It’s because of you,” said Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll during a visit with employees in the euphemistically-named Department of Economic Opportunity. But Amy Baker, head of the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research says the state shouldn’t expect much movement in the unemployment rate in the near future.  

“We still have at least a couple years before largely we’re there. So, Calendar year 2015 if you want to think of it that way.”  

Over the past few years, the date for a real recovery has moved from 2012, to 2013, to 2014 and now 2016. In each case, Baker’s group has had to revise its estimate due to factors beyond, Florida’s control. First, there was the housing market crash. Then the Great Recession. Then came the European Debt crisis which has several counties teetering on the brink of economic collapse.  

“We don’t know how all that will play out. We’re assuming that it would be fairly orderly, and that it won’t have the same disruption that it had last August, but we don’t know that. It is an assumption, and if it comes in differently, it will change our numbers,” Baker said.

The problems in Europe hit Florida’s tourism sector which attract large numbers of European and Asian visitors. The state is also closely watching a series of mandatory federal spending cuts set to go into effect at the end of the year. That’s so-called “Fiscal Cliff” and it could hit sectors like defense, which has a large presence in Florida, especially hard. Baker says Floridians shouldn’t expect to see the unemployment rate fall below seven percent for another few years.