Florida Unemployment Numbers Increase In December

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — More people were jobless in Florida last month than live in the state of Rhode Island.

Nearly 1,087,000 workers were searching for a paycheck in Florida in December, which is more than Rhode Island’s 2008 population of 1,050,788.

Florida’s unemployment rate increased to 11.8 percent, the highest rate since May of 1975 when 11.9 percent of the state’s work force was idled, the Agency for Workforce Innovation reported Friday.

And things aren’t looking brighter in the short term for Florida, which was one of 43 states nationally reporting higher jobless figures Friday.

Legislative economist Amy Baker predicted earlier this week that Florida will lag behind the rest of the nation in recovering from the latest recession largely because of the state’s housing surplus where there are more than a half million homes in foreclosure. Baker said Florida’s unemployment will likely peak at 12 percent later this year.

“We wish it were going in the other direction, obviously,” Gov. Charlie Crist said.

Crist, who is bypassing re-election as governor to seek an open U.S. Senate seat, held a news conference to update efforts to lure the Chicago Cubs out of Arizona to a spring training base in Naples — in southwest Florida where the housing crisis has hit hardest.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to talking about at least the possibility of the Chicago Cubs coming,” said Crist, who is aware of reports that the team is likely to remain at it’s longtime spring training base in Mesa, Ariz.

Crist’s Office of Economic Recovery released a report Friday that estimated the federal stimulus program created or saved 87,000 jobs in the last quarter of 2009 with projects it’s funded in Florida.

“The evidence is that without this activity the unemployment situation would be even worse,” said Don Winstead, the governor’s stimulus czar said. “When is it going to improve? Not soon enough.”

Florida’s December 2009 unemployment number was 1.8 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate of 10 percent and 4.2 percentage points higher than in December 2008 when there were 752,000 on the state’s jobless rolls.

The present figures leave approximately one job opening for every six unemployed workers hunting for work, AWI economist Rebecca Rust said.

Most jobs have been lost were in the construction, trade and professional areas. The only growth sector in much of 2009 was in health care where there is a shortage of 12,000 nursing jobs.

Flagler County is east-central Florida continued to be the hardest hit area with 16.9 percent unemployment, due mostly to weakness in the construction industry which has lost nearly 60,000 jobs in the last year alone. Rural Liberty County in the Florida Panhandle reported the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 6 percent.

Not surprisingly, the less the education, the higher the unemployment rate, Rust said.

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