Unemployment remains stubbornly high in Florida, but governor’s office sees silver linings.

Are the Help Wanted signs coming out more often in Florida? Or is the Sunshine State’s economy struck in neutral?

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s unemployment rate held at 8.8 percent in August, higher than the national average of 8.1 percent and still among the highest in the nation.
The governor’s office, though, says there were some encouraging signs in the employment report that was released on Friday, including the fact that the Sunshine State created 28,000 new private sector jobs, marking the largest number created in a single month since April 2011.
Even at 8.8 percent, the August 2012 rate was 1.7 percentage points lower than the Florida unemployment rate in August 2011, which was 10.5 percent.
Florida has gained 153,000 private sector jobs since December 2010, Gov. Rick Scott noted after the unemployment rate figures were released by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
“The month of August showed that 28,000 more Floridians found employment in the private sector and are able to provide for their families,” Scott said. “Employers are aware of the talented and skilled workforce we have here, and the August numbers prove that the economic climate in Florida is one that encourages job creation and economic development.”
Since 2007, Florida has been one of the hardest hit states economically. The state rode the wave of a residential home construction boom in the past decade – one-sixth of all housing units in Florida got built after 2000 – and it was all based on the assumption that Florida’s year-round tropical climate, appeal to retirees, and buoyant economy would continue to attract newcomers in search of housing for years. But it didn’t work out that way.
By 2008, when the housing market crashed, much of Florida’s once strong economy went with it. Housing values plummeted and, along with California, Nevada and Arizona, Florida had among the state’s highest home foreclosure rates. Florida’s unemployment rate, which had been as low as 3 percent when the housing market was booming, was at 5 percent in January 2008, then rose to 12.1 percent by August 2010.
Likewise, the state’s growth rate dropped as well, and by 2007, more people were moving out of Florida than relocating here.
The Department of Economic Opportunity, though, said there are reasons for optimism in recent months.
According to the Help Wanted OnLine data series from The Conference Board, Florida job postings in August 2012 totaled more than 264,000 openings. That’s an increase of more than 33,000 openings compared to August 2011.
Sales positions led the way in online job postings, followed by listings for healthcare practitioners, office and administrative support, and computer-related positions.
The state employment agency also noted that Florida’s unemployment rate had declined over the year for 21 consecutive months – though not in July, when it rose from 8.3 percent to 8.8 percent, or in August, when it stayed the same — and that Florida’s job growth from month to month has been positive for 11 of the last 14 months, though not in July, when the state lost 3,000 jobs.
Last month, the state’s 24 Regional Workforce Boards reported that more than 29,000 Floridians got placed in jobs after receiving employment and training assistance through a One-Stop Career Center. Of these individuals, 7,172 had previously received reemployment assistance.
Initial claims for reemployment assistance benefits are down 35 percent from a year ago, while continued claims fell by an average of 553,000 in December 2010 to 311,000 in August 2012, a 41 percent decrease.
Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Hunting F. Deutsch said the agency will keep working until every one of the state’s 800,000 jobless find work.
“DEO remains committed to working with Workforce Florida, Inc., and the 24 Regional Workforce Boards and One-Stop Career Centers across the state to help place Floridians into the more than 260,000 available jobs,” Deutsch said.
Scott added, “Collectively, we’re creating an environment that fosters job creation, increased economic development and a positive business climate overall.”
The governor’s office also noted that trends in housing have been positive recently. In July, housing starts in Florida were up by 33.7 percent, while median home prices rose 7.8 percent over the past year.
It’s not clear how these numbers will impact the crucial presidential race here in Florida, one of the most pivotal tossup states.
Republicans held their convention in Tampa in August, in recognition of the important role this state will play in helping to decide the presidential election. Florida has voted for the winner in the past four elections: for Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996, Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, all by narrow margins.
Different polls have shown both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney with a razor-thin lead in the state, with both candidates below 50 percent.
A Gravis Marketing poll has Romney with 48 percent and Obama with 47 percent, while a Rasmussen Reports poll gives Obama 48 percent and Romney, 46 percent. A Fox News poll has Obama with a slightly larger lead, 49 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.
For more information on the state’s employment services, including resources for job seekers, log on to www.floridajobs.org.

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