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Jobless Rate Declines for a Third Month as Unemployment Benefits Run Out for Thousands

By Gina Jordan


Tallahassee, FL – The state's employment numbers show some bright spots in figures released Friday by the Agency for Workforce Innovation. But there are still just over a million Floridians out of work, and thousands are running out of employment compensation benefits.

Florida's jobless rate in June dropped a few tenths of a point to 11.4-percent. That's three straight months of declines. Chief Economist Rebecca Rust says it's the lowest rate since last October.

"The peak unemployment rate of this current recession was 12.3 in March of this year."

Rust says the economic recovery is being hampered by tight credit conditions, frugal consumers, and cost-cutting by businesses. Because of the difficult housing market, jobseekers are less likely to be able to relocate. It also doesn't help that some people have been out of work as long as two years and may need to gain new skills to get back in.

"We do have more unemployed persons that we do job openings. We have over a million unemployed, and at least on the internet, we have just over 200-thousand job openings advertised. So we just don't have enough jobs for all the unemployed."

The metro areas of the state that have the lowest unemployment rates are in North and Northwest Florida. They all have a higher percentage of government workers who are employed by state agencies, the military, prisons and universities. Rust says the majority of the jobs available right now, based on internet ads, are in the medical field.

"Previously, they almost all were medical. Now we're seeing quite a few sales jobs, some retail jobs, and a lot of I-T jobs. We have computer support specialists, web developers, computer systems analysts, to name a few where there's a number of job openings. But registered nurses continue to lead the list of the jobs with the highest number of openings, almost 14-thousand."

The oil spill has had an impact, but Rust says there is limited information, because many people in the fishing industry are self-employed, and at least half of the cleanup workers were hired by B-P contractors out of state.

Labor groups hope lawmakers will use the upcoming special session on oil drilling to help Floridians who still need a paycheck. Mike Williams is president of the Florida AFL-CIO, representing 500-thousand unionized workers.

"We're asking the Legislature, the leadership in the Legislature, and we're asking the governor to do whatever it takes to expand the call to just do a few simple words to change that statute to allow unemployed workers in Florida today to continue to receive unemployment benefits until they find that job."

Congress is taking steps to extend federal unemployment benefits that ran out last month, but Williams says Floridians won't be eligible for them unless there's a change in state law. Since the federal extension expired June 5th, more than 34-thousand Floridians a week have been losing benefits.

"We really are sincere and hopeful that the Legislature can and will do something about it now that they have the opportunity to do it."

Williams says the impact of the oil spill on families along the gulf coast has been unbelievably devastating. Even communities that haven't been directly affected yet are worried. Williams lives on the St. Marks River, about twenty miles south of Tallahassee.

"We're all scared as hell of what's going to happen in the future and what it's going to mean to our 300-population community of St. Marks, FL. I can't imagine what it's got to be like for those that are already experiencing (an impact) - with the hotels shut down, the service industry, the fishermen, the oil industry workers, the tens of thousands of workers that are without a job today."

The state's jobless survey does show some positive indicators overall. Five industries are gaining jobs, including healthcare, government, business services, and transportation. But Florida's jobless rate is still nearly two points higher than the national average.