Florida’s jobless rate dipped 0.2 percentage points in December amid what state officials said is growing economic confidence as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday announced a 6.1% unemployment rate, down from 6.3% in November. The new rate reflected 614,000 Floridians qualifying as being out of work in December — down 18,000 from a month earlier — out of a workforce of more than 10.14 million.
Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, pointed to continued growth in seasonal hiring.
“When we look at our November and October rates, where you start to see seasonal employment grow, this month (December) outperformed those months,” Johnston said. “So, it just generally reflects a growing confidence in businesses reopening and adding jobs and individuals going back into the labor market and finding employment.”
Appearing in Key Largo on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis credited his policies of reopening schools and businesses during the pandemic, in contrast to some other parts of the country.
“Many other states have lost jobs. And of course, the U.S. as a whole lost jobs month over month. And so, we are not only gaining jobs, but we’re doing it against the tide of where other places are shedding jobs,” DeSantis said. “And I think part of that is the fact that Florida is open, our schools are open. Parents have the ability to send their kids in person. People have a right to work in Florida. Government can’t shut you down. And businesses have a right to operate. And I think you’re seeing the results of that.”
DeSantis also highlighted the state nearing 1 million seniors receiving first doses of COVID-19 vaccines. But Florida has also seen a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths during the fall and winter, and the pandemic continues to hurt Florida’s economically critical tourism industry.
In moves that could affect the tourism industry, President Joe Biden issued executive orders this week requiring people to wear face masks on such things as planes and trains to try to slow the spread of the virus. Backing federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Biden also wants international travelers to receive negative COVID-19 tests to get into the United States and then quarantine for seven days after arriving.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday issued a news release that highlighted “eight consecutive months of month-over-month job growth” and focusing on 21,100 new private-sector jobs created in Florida last month, while private-sector jobs fell by 95,000 nationally.
Several employment categories saw increases in jobs from November to December in Florida, including professional and technical services, which grew by 12,500 jobs. Among others, retail jobs were up by 8,600 and real estate added 3,000 positions. Also, jobs at hotels and restaurants went up by 2,400.
Meanwhile, as layoffs moved forward at major theme parks, jobs in an arts, entertainment and recreation category fell by 4,700 from November to December. Positions involving transportation, warehousing and utilities were down by 2,300. Government jobs were reduced by 4,300, with 3,000 involving state positions.
The number of people considered to be actively looking for work increased by 31,000 from November to December, but labor participation remains off from the pre-pandemic period.
“Due to the nature of this particular recession, which is a result of COVID, we know that there are certain areas and there have been certain periods where people have not either been able to look for work or there are reasons why they would not be looking for work,” Johnston said. “I mentioned we do have some individuals who identified as discouraged that is higher than it was prior to the pandemic. But that’s not the full story. So, there are some individuals who are not discouraged necessarily. They’re just not actively looking for work at this time.”
In December 2019, the state had a 2.9% jobless rate, with an estimated 297,000 people out of work from a workforce that topped 10.4 million.
The state has recovered 61% of the 1.178 million jobs lost from February to April as the pandemic hit.
The category of leisure and hospitality accounted for 15.5% of the jobs lost over the past year, with the tourism-rich Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan statistical area having a 6.9% unemployment rate in December, the highest in the state.
The Lakeland-Winter Haven and the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan statistical areas were next highest at 6.7%.
At the other end, the lowest jobless mark was found in the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin area at 4.2%, followed by the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area at 4.3% and the Gainesville area at 4.4%.
The national unemployment rate — announced last week for December — stood at 6.7% for a second month.