Peltier column: Florida growing but some still left behind

MICHAEL PELTIER

TALLAHASSEE — With Thanksgiving just days away, a few more Floridians will have something to be thankful for as the state's economy continues to rumble, albeit slowly, back to life.

Florida's unemployment rate in October fell to 10.3 percent, its lowest level in 28 months as the state continues a slow slog back but continues to face persistently high joblessness.

The good news is that job growth continues. Non-agricultural employment grew by 9,500 jobs in October from the previous month, bringing to 93,900 the number of jobs created over the past year, a 1.3 percent increase compared to a national boost of 1.2 percent. Since Jan. 1, the state has added 106,900 jobs, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported Friday.

But rates continue to remain in double digits, an economic malaise that continues to hamstring the state. A backlog of foreclosure cases and a glut of existing housing stock is hampering recovery in a state that has historically been reliant on the construction sector.

Despite woes in the housing and construction sectors, Florida's October jobless was a 0.3 percentage point dip from September and lower than the 11.8 percent posted in October 2010. The national unemployment rate for October was 9 percent.

The jobs news was hailed by Gov. Rick Scott and business leaders as the latest sign Florida is getting back on its economic feet.

Even though unemployment has hovered above 10 percent all year, the state has created more jobs than any other in the nation, and he thinks the state has been successful in tackling the unemployment rate.

"Florida's economy is headed in the right direction," Scott in response to news that Florida had added more than 100,000 jobs since January despite a reduction in government sector employment. "Obviously, we still have a long way to go, but this is great news heading into the holiday season."

But for nearly 955,000 others who are officially unemployed and several hundred thousand more who are underemployed, the enthusiasm rings hollow. Construction workers, especially, have seen their ranks culled by more than 350,000 since the boom years before the 2007 housing crash.

Construction remains a millstone around the neck of the state's historically growth-dependent economy. Tourism employment is up, however, as is the state's manufacturing sector, signs that Florida's underlying economy is improving.

Thirteen of 22 metropolitan areas experience job gains year to year, the Department of Economic Opportunity reported. Metro areas making the largest gains included Tampa/St. Petersburg, 2.2 percent; Miami, 1.9; percent and Orlando, 0.9 percent.

Business leaders said the slow but steady gains in nonagricultural employment may have a snowball effect as job gains in several strategic sectors may spur other private business to follow suit. Florida, eventually, will get back on its feet.

But Floridians scurrying out to face the Black Friday frenzy or those quietly shopping online from their homes need to remain aware that many of their fellow residents are still hurting. As the nation collectively celebrates good fortune, it may also be good to remind ourselves that the success of the pilgrims was greatly aided by those who chose to share some of what they had.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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