Fla. unemployment rate hits 11 percent

— The number of unemployed Floridians topped 1 million for the first time as the state’s jobless rate hit 11 percent in September.

The unemployment rate was 0.2 percentage points higher than August’s adjusted 10.8 percent rate. It’s also 1.2 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate.

The last time Florida’s unemployment rate reached 11 percent was in October 1975.

“The recovery is coming slowly, but it is coming,” Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia Lorenzo said in a press release announcing the numbers Friday. “The latest unemployment figures confirm that the economic downturn continues to impact a significant number of Floridians and businesses. However, a reduction in employers announcing closings or large-scale layoffs is a positive sign of Florida’s growing economic stability.”

The statistics were released a day after a report showed $334.6 million in federal contracts awarded through the federal stimulus package created or saved 1,635 Florida jobs so far. Many projects have been awarded but not started, so the report shows no jobs created yet.

The state also said it has spent $4 billion in stimulus funds so far and filed a report with the federal government that the equivalent of more than 22,000 jobs have been created or saved. The spending includes benefits like food stamps and unemployment compensation that wouldn’t reflect any direct job creation, said Don Winstead, named by the governor to oversee federal stimulus spending.

The state figures also don’t include indirect jobs created through spending, Winstead said. The governor’s budget office estimates that the actual effect of the spending, including indirect employment, is more than 64,000 jobs.

The state has been awarded $9 billion of the $14 billion in stimulus money it is expecting.

“When we look at the amount of unemployment and the difficulty that that represents for the people of Florida and the families in our state, it underscores for me how important it is that we stay the course and press on,” Winstead. “That we keep our focus on creating jobs and creating economic activities.”

Historically, unemployment rates continue to rise even after a recession ends, said Rebecca Rust, the workforce agency’s chief economist.

“We are expecting this to be a very slow recovery because of the housing inventory and the tight credit conditions,” Rust said.

Gov. Charlie Crist announced just before the figures were released that he would host a small business summit next month to talk about how to help economic growth.

The county with the highest unemployment rate is Hendry at 16.8 percent, followed by Flagler at 16.2 percent and St. Lucie at 15.3 percent. The county with the lowest unemployment rate is Liberty at 5.3 percent, followed by Walton at 6.8 percent and Monroe at 7 percent.

Florida has lost more than 360,000 jobs since September 2008.

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