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Florida unemployment rate drops to 6.2%

Florida’s unemployment rate declined to 6.2 percent in December from 6.4 percent in November and 7.9 percent a year ago, while the Tampa Bay area outperformed all others in Florida in creating 35,400 new jobs in 2013, the state reported Friday.

Unemployment in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties dipped to 5.7 percent in December, the lowest figure in each county since May 2008, while the four-county Tampa Bay region was in at 5.9 percent.

But unlike the seasonally adjusted statewide figures, those percentages were not adjusted to account for seasonal trends affecting employment.

Florida’s improvements in employment performance surpassed nationwide reports, with the U.S. seasonally adjusted December unemployment rate at 6.7 percent compared with 7 percent in November and 7.9 percent in December 2012.

“The broad picture is Florida’s labor market is looking pretty good when looking at widespread job growth across industries, which is what you want to see,” said Steve Cochrane, managing director for Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa.

“Two things I do see, however, is that construction employment and real estate, rental and leasing did not grow in December, but one month does not make a trend.”

Typical of Florida’s jobless announcements in recent months, commentary associated with the reports ranged from financially to politically oriented appraisals.

“Once again we continue to distance ourselves from the national unemployment rate and create opportunities for Florida families,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a release.

“With 462,100 new private sector jobs created since December 2010, opportunities continue to increase for Florida families and it’s clear that our economic policies are working.”

However the significance of the monthly figures have long been challenged, with state economists who work in a department for the Florida Legislature saying a major reason for recent jobless rate declines is that people have left the labor force or delayed their job search.

Another Florida issue involves technical problems with a new computer system that people who have lost or are without jobs must use to file for unemployment compensation, under a Scott mandate that requires those claims be filed on-line.

Last week, Florida agreed to pay unemployment claims on hold for more than seven days to help at least 60,000 unemployed workers, who have not been paid on-time since the state’s $63 million CONNECT unemployment insurance system went into service in October.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, got U.S. Department of Labor officials to intervene in an attempt to help fix the website. It’s unclear what impact widespread publicity and difficulties in filing unemployment claims might have on monthly data, since .

However, it appears the U.S. and Florida economies are improving — how well remains open tor debate. The state reported 584,000 jobless Floridians in a labor force of 9.4 million.

Florida’s annual job growth rate of 2.6 percent in December 2013 was the fastest since June 2006. The state’s annual job growth rate has exceeded or been equal to the nation’s rate since March 2012.

“We notice that the clients we work with are continuously growing their workforce, not just replacing individuals due to turnover,” said Kim Malatesta, Tampa branch manager for the Incepture staffing firm, which finds jobs primarily for health care and finance professionals.

“We see people interested in moving here from the North, willing to take lower salaries to live here, along with no state income tax and lower housing costs,” she said

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Metropolitan Statistical Area that includes Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties reported in its first quarter 2014 employment outlook that 21 percent of companies interviewed plan to hire new employees.

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