Florida unemployment drops to 8.5 percent — lowest since 2008; Collier, Lee down

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— Jobless rates are going back in time in Southwest Florida.

In October, Lee County saw its unemployment drop to where it hasn’t been since 2008.

Likewise, Collier County had one of its lowest unemployment rates in four years last month.

In both counties, jobless rates fell below 9 percent in October, according to a monthly report by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Statewide, unemployment dropped to its lowest mark since December 2008, with 8.5 percent of the workforce still hunting for jobs.

Collier’s jobless rate hit 8.4 percent last month, one of the lower rates the county has seen since December 2008. It stood at 9.3 percent in September and 10.3 percent a year ago.

Lee’s rate matched the state’s at 8.5 percent last month. That’s the county’s lowest jobless rate since July 2008 — and that was down from 9.2 percent in September and 10.7 percent a year ago.

“The real significance is that it basically indicates how this has been a pretty rough road to follow,” said Gary Jackson, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero. “The recovery has taken a really long time and we’re not done yet. We’re not back yet.”

A normal unemployment rate is 5.5 to 6 percent, he pointed out.

Collier’s jobless rate has seen some more erratic swings. In December 2008, it was at 8.1 percent, but it has been below 8 percent in some months this year.

October’s lower unemployment rates in Lee and Collier may reflect the start of hiring for the busy season, which looks like it could be busier than last year based on a strong comeback in tourism in the region and statewide.

“There are still corrections and adjustments going on in terms of the housing industry and the financial markets, but we are seeing some very good improving trends, when looking at the economic indicators over the last several months,” Jackson said.

The Regional Economic Research Institute on Friday released its latest Business Climate Survey Report, gauging the outlook of senior executives in Lee County.

In the survey, 77 percent of the executives said they expect the economy to improve during the next year, while nearly 60 percent stated the economic conditions for their industry have improved during the past year.

Forty percent of the executives surveyed have increased employment at their businesses during the past year and 54 percent expect to add employees in the next year.

Despite the optimism in the survey, Cape Coral-Fort Myers was the biggest job loser in the state last month — for a second month in a row. It lost 2,800 jobs since October 2011, more than any other metropolitan area in the state, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Meanwhile, Naples-Marco Island has added 2,400 jobs since October 2011.

Statewide, 67,600 jobs were created during the past year, up 0.9 percent from October 2011. Nationally, jobs increased 1.5 percent during the same year-long period.

October’s unemployment rate was the first one released in Florida since President Barack Obama was re-elected last week. Unemployment and job creation were a major part of the debate between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, who vowed to create 12 million jobs if elected.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been quick to boast of improvements in the state’s unemployment numbers to the chagrin of Republicans anxious to blame Obama for high unemployment.

“In October, 12,100 more Floridians found employment in the private sector and the incomes that allow them to provide for their families, particularly with the holidays approaching,” Scott said in a statement. “We are creating an environment that fosters job creation, economic development and provides a skilled workforce. My number one goal is to create jobs for Florida families and get this state back to work.”

If discouraged workers and part-time employees seeking full-time jobs are added, Florida’s jobless rate for October was 16.4 percent, down from 18.2 percent a year ago.

Speaking to the Federalist Society in Washington on Friday morning, Scott said the drop in unemployment combined with increases in the labor pool were testament to the wisdom of austere state spending and other Republican-led efforts.

“Our economic turnaround for Florida families is well under way and we are proof that conservative solutions work,” Scott said.

Democrats were quick to point out Florida’s rate has been worse than the nation as a whole since mid-2008.

“Floridians know that growing our economy starts with investing in the middle class, a center point of which is investing in schools to create the next generation of new, good-paying jobs,” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said in a prepared statement. “It is unfortunate that under Rick Scott, Florida’s economy continues to lag behind the rest of the nation.”

__ The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

EARLIER:

TALLAHASSEE — Florida labor officials say the state's unemployment dropped to its lowest mark in nearly four years in October with 8.5 percent of the workforce still hunting for jobs.

Although the figure is an improvement from September's 8.7 percent unemployment in Florida, it remains six-tenths of a percentage point higher than the national average of 7.9 percent. It is Florida's first unemployment figures since President Barack Obama was re-elected last week.

Unemployment and job creation were a major part of the debate between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, who promised to create 12 million new jobs if elected. Gov. Rick Scott has been quick to boast of improvements in the state's unemployment numbers to the chagrin of Republicans anxious to blame Obama for high unemployment.

Collier and Lee counties saw their unemployment rates drop below 9 percent in October, following a state trend.

Collier's jobless rate was at 8.4 percent, down from 9.3 percent a month earlier and 10.3 percent a year ago.

Lee's fell to 8.5 percent, down from 9.2 percent in September and 10.7 percent a year ago.

EARLIER:

Florida set to announce October unemployment report

TALLAHASSEE — Florida labor officials are set to announce the state's first unemployment figures since President Barack Obama was re-elected last week.

Gov. Rick Scott — whose political future could hang in the balance on his campaign promise to create 700,000 new jobs in Florida — is hoping October's figures will be improved from the state's 8.7 percent unemployment in September. Florida's unemployment was eight-tenths of a percent higher than the national average in September.

Unemployment and job creation were a major part of the debate between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who has promised to create 12 million new jobs if elected. Scott has been quick to boast of improvements in the state's unemployment numbers to the chagrin of Republicans who were anxious to blame Obama for high unemployment.

__ The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

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