TALLAHASSEE — Going down.
Jobless rates dropped in Lee and Collier counties in March.
In Collier, the unemployment rate fell to 10.2 percent last month, down from 10.7 percent in February and 11.4 percent a year ago, according to statistics released this morning by the state’s Agency for Workforce Innovation.
In Lee, the unemployment rate was 11.2 percent in March, down from 11.7 percent in February and 12.5 percent a year ago.
There were 14,870 workers without jobs in Collier last month. That compared to 31,000 in Lee.
Statewide, the unemployment rate dropped to 11.1 percent in March, the lowest rate Florida has seen since November 2009.
“While that number is still too high, that is the lowest unemployment rate we’ve seen in more than a year, and represents a nearly 1 percent decrease since I became governor,” Gov. Rick Scott said during a brief press conference on Friday at the Capitol.
The last time the state saw a year-over-year drop in the monthly unemployment rate was in November 2006.
In March, employment in the state grew by 22,600 jobs, when compared to the previous month.
Out of Florida’s 67 counties, 64 saw their unemployment rates drop in March.
Since January, Florida has added 43,800 jobs, said Rebecca Rust, the chief economist for the Agency for Workforce Innovation. She was asked if those gains could be attributed to policies implemented by Scott’s new administration.
“We can’t say what those could be attributed to,” Rust said. “There would be a lot of factors.”
Still Scott, who campaigned on a pledge to add 700,000 new private sector jobs, was happy to pounce on what he deemed “good news.”
“We’re seeing an encouraging trend since Florida’s unemployment rate has declined for three straight months,” Scott said. “We’re clearly headed in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go because we still have more than a million people out of work. That’s why I’m working every day to create jobs and grow Florida’s private sector. I believe reducing regulation, cutting Florida’s business tax and streamlining the state’s economic development function are the ways to make that happen.”
Despite the falling unemployment rate, more than 1 million Floridians out of the state’s 9 million person workforce remain out of work.
The construction industry continues to bleed jobs, losing 14,700 in March, compared to last year. The information technology, banking and manufacturing industries also shed jobs during that period.
The state’s under utilization rate is at 19.3 percent, which includes not only the unemployed, but part-time workers who would like full-time work, and discouraged workers who have dropped out of the work force altogether.
Over the last year, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area lost 3,000 jobs, Rust said, behind only the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville metro area, which is reeling from the loss of the space shuttle program.
Florida’s unemployment rate is forecasted to drop to 10 percent by the end of 2012, and 6 percent in 2018.
“As you can see from these numbers, it will be a relatively slow recovery,” Rust said.
The national unemployment rate was at 8.8 percent in March, down 1 percent over the last four months.