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Florida's jobless rate drops to 3.3 percent

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The number of Floridians who qualified as out of work dropped by 15,000 in February.

Florida’s employment picture continues to brighten, while the state jobs agency envisions conditions slowing to a more “stable” pace over the next two years.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity issued a report Friday that said the state’s unemployment rate in February was 3.3 percent, down from 3.5 percent in January. Also, the number of people qualified as out of work dropped by 15,000 in February, while the size of the labor force increased by 22,000.

The report, reflecting mid-February conditions, estimated 348,000 Floridians were out of work from a labor force of 10.471 million. Also, after 1.282 million jobs were lost in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, more than 1.434 million jobs have been added.

Adrienne Johnston, chief economist at the Department of Economic Opportunity, attributed a big chunk of the state’s employment conditions to people over the past 11 months becoming more optimistic about leaving jobs for better opportunities, with the overall growth of the labor force linked to people becoming more confident that work is available.

“If you go back and look at previous recessions, it was generally a longer-term recovery,” Johnston told reporters in a conference call. “So, to have come back in just two years from such a significant job loss, means we were at a very significant rate of job gains.”

A separate report recently released by the agency estimated the pace of new jobs declining from 5.7 percent, with 545,000 new positions, during the past year to 5.1 percent over the next two years.

“This is a slower rate than the growth we have seen over the past year, but it reflects the anticipated return to the stable levels of growth and labor market we experienced prior to the pandemic,” Johnston said.

The report estimated the state in February had 177,200 more jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector than a year earlier. Other increases included the professional and business services sector, up 100,200 positions; education and health services, up 27,100; and construction, up 20,800.

But not every field has regained all the jobs lost after the pandemic caused businesses to shut down or scale back.

“Leisure and hospitality lost the greatest number of jobs … of these it regained 506,300 or 88.8 percent,” Johnston said.

Education, health care and government positions are also below pre-pandemic figures.

Friday’s report came as weekly jobless claims have rolled in at a pace similar to levels before the pandemic. The national unemployment rate in February was 3.8 percent

On March 14, an annual federal revision put Florida’s jobless rate at 3.5 percent for both December and January after prior calculations had the rate at 4.4 percent in December.

Statewide, the lowest February unemployment rate was in Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, at 2.0 percent, down from 2.3 percent in January. Next lowest was St. Johns County at 2.3 percent, down from 2.6 percent.

Rural Hamilton County in North Florida had the highest rate at 4.5 percent, down from 5.1 percent in January.

Among the state’s metropolitan statistical areas, the unemployment rate in the Jacksonville area was at 2.8 percent, and the rate in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area was 2.9 percent. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach and the Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent areas were at 3.0 percent, and the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area was at 3.4 percent.

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