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Unemployment rate holds steady in state, ticks up in Northeast Florida

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s unemployment rate held steady at 6.4% in November as businesses did not boost seasonal hiring as much as usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While most of Northeast Florida counties have lower jobless percentages than the state average, their rates all went higher in the past month.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday said 651,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed in mid-November, just 7,000 fewer than a month earlier.

The October mark had initially been estimated at 6.5% before being revised down to 6.4%. The statewide unemployment rate in November 2019, before the pandemic hammered the economy, was 2.8%.

Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief of the Bureau of Labor Market Statistics, pointed to a failure of seasonal retail hiring to reach demand from past years.

“I think we’re seeing where people are shopping online a little bit more of the season. Businesses did not add as many employees to their payrolls,” Johnson told reporters in a conference call.

While Johnston outlined agency long-term projections that indicate food and drinking establishments will gain the most jobs over the next eight years, she said it is hard to project short-term impacts of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, which began coming to the state this week.

“It certainly could play a large role,” Johnston said. “But we’re already seeing things coming back to a large extent, too.”

Unemployment statistics by county

Putnam County had the third-highest unemployment rate in the state in November and St. Johns County had the second-lowest rate and Nassau County had the fifth-lowest among Florida’s 67 counties.

The Jacksonville area private-sector employment decreased by 29,400 jobs (-4.4%) over the year. The Jacksonville area’s average unemployment rate was 5.2% in November.

The industries losing the most jobs over the year in the state were trade, transportation, and utilities (-12,200 jobs); and leisure and hospitality (-9,900 jobs). Two major industries gained jobs over the year in November 2020: government (+1,000 jobs); and construction (+400 jobs).

The tourism-heavy Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan statistical area maintained the highest unemployment rate at 7.7 percent, with Osceola County unemployment at 9.7% and Orange County at 8.1%.

The state has regained nearly 60% of the 1.18 million jobs lost between February and April as the pandemic took hold. However, tourism-related leisure and hospitality fields, which picked up 11,800 jobs from October to November, mostly at hotels and restaurants, continue to be the most severely impacted, down 187,500 jobs from a year ago.

“The good news is we are seeing people come back into the labor market. Our labor force is growing,” Johnston said. “Businesses are creating jobs, so we are seeing things come back.”

The national unemployment rate for November was announced last week as inching down to 6.7 percent, from 6.9 percent, while Congress continues to discuss a wide-ranging relief package that could include $900 billion in relief funding.

The NFIB Research Center estimated Monday that without further federal assistance, about 25 percent of small-businesses owners will have to close their doors in the next six months, with another 22 percent being able to hold out for seven months to a year.

“Between now and the success of any vaccine is going to be the hardest time of all for small businesses affected by COVID,” Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business-Florida, said in a prepared statement.

The decrease in the national unemployment rate in November was linked primarily to a large number of workers leaving the labor force.

Meanwhile, Florida saw its workforce grow by 49,000, from 10.097 million in October to 10.146 million in November.

A year ago, the state had a workforce of 10.4 million, with 297,000 out of work.

About the Authors:

Created WJXT.com in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website ever since.

Jim is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics.