Collier, Lee jobless rate climbs in September; state rate worst since 1975

Southwest Florida continues to shed jobs.

In September, the unemployment rate in Collier County rose to 13.1 percent, up from 12.7 percent in August and 8.4 percent a year ago.

Meanwhile, Lee County’s jobless rate increased to 13.9 percent, up from 13.5 percent in August and 9.4 percent a year ago, according to Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Florida’s unemployment rate also rose; it hasn’t been as high since October 1975. The state hit 11 percent sooner than expected last month. That was up from 10.8 percent in August. There were 1,012,000 state residents out of work last month, out of a labor force of 9,193,000.

It’s the first time the number of unemployed residents has reached more than 1 million in Florida, meaning there has never been as many people out of work as there are today, said Rebecca Rust, chief economist for the Agency for Workforce Innovation in Tallahassee, during a conference call on Friday.

The national unemployment rate is 9.8 percent.

“I think you will find that unemployment will remain high...,” said Tammie Nemecek, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Collier County. “First, it is a lagging indicator so it shows what happened rather than what will happen. Second, though you might find, for example, higher spending in the tech sector, I think companies will be slow to hire new staff until their confidence improves that the spending will be consistently increasing — and not be a short-term blip.” There were 18,856 unemployed residents in Collier last month, out of a labor force of 143,967.

In Lee, 37,789 workers were without jobs in September from a work force of 272,069.

Last month, Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate in the state at 16.8 percent.

All metro areas in Florida lost jobs over the year. Cape Coral-Fort Myers saw the steepest decline of 7.5 percent, losing 15,700 jobs. Most of those losses were tied to construction and related to a housing slump.

Naples-Marco Island has lost 8,700 jobs since September 2008 — a 7.3 percent decline.

Statewide, the total nonagricultural employment for September was 7,333,800, representing a job loss of 360,400, or 4.7 percent, from a year ago. The rate of decline has moderated since reaching 5.4 percent in March, Rust noted.

“We are looking for every positive sign we can find,” she said.

Still, the national rate of job losses was only 4.2 percent over the year.

Most of the unemployed workers in Florida — more than 60 percent — can be characterized as “job losers,” who have been laid off and didn’t leave their jobs voluntarily. More than 20 percent are people who are looking to reenter the work force after taking time off, Rust said.

The industries losing the most jobs are trade, transportation, and utilities; professional and business services, and construction, according to the Agency for Workforce Innovation. The three industries account for more than two-thirds of the state’s job losses.

Health care has been Florida’s only growth sector for most of this year.

“We remain committed to serving unemployed workers and providing them with job placement and training services to support rapid reemployment and help reinvigorate the economy,” said Agency for Workforce Innovation Director Cynthia R. Lorenzo in a statement.

“The recovery is coming slowly, but it is coming. 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.”

Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notices have begun to decline. Employers are required to submit the notices to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation when they are laying off 50 or more employees.

The notices hit their peak in March — at 36. The state received seven in September.

No notices were submitted during the week of October 5-9. The last time the agency saw a week without any new notices was about a year ago.

Sean Snaith, an economist and director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, expects the jobless picture to get worse before it gets better.

“I think the trend is these rates are going to go a little bit higher over the next several months before they stabilize,” he said.

He said a big question is how long it will take for the unemployment rate to go back down once it stabilizes. “For the state at least, we forecast double digit unemployment until the year 2012,” Snaith said. “That is when we think it will finally fall below 10 percent.” Growth in the early part of the recovery will be slow.

“Technically the recession is over nationally, but the labor market is going to feel like it’s still in a recession,” Snaith said.

“Things are still going to be bad.”

Connect with Laura Layden at

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