For the first time in five years, Florida’s unemployment in January dropped below the national average.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity released its January employment report Monday. The statewide unemployment numbers decreased from 7.9 percent in December of last year to 7.8 percent in January. The national unemployment rate was flipped, increasing from 7.8 percent in December to 7.9 percent in January.
This is Florida’s lowest unemployment rate since November 2008 and the first time the state was below the national average since January 2008.
“The tourists are coming again. That helps,” said David Goetsch, a local economist. “We’re also seeing the biggest uptick we’ve seen in seven years in construction. It’s not like it was pre-recession days, but we’re seeing some new construction throughout the state. And those are your two big ticket items in the state.
“We will continue to do well when compared to the rest of the nation, but perhaps not to the extent we are today,” Goetsch added. “I think the gap between us and the nation will close somewhat and you’ll probably even see some states that will do better than us. But I don’t think you’re going to see Florida go backwards.”
In the past year, Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped from 9.2 percent in January 2012 to its current rate. The national economy has been improving much more slowly.
While the state unemployment rate dropped, the local unemployment rates for Walton, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties all inched up slightly higher.
“In view of all we’re facing, the numbers today are really not bad news,” Goetsch said. “It could be a lot worse than this. I don’t want to call it good news, but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be.”
Walton County’s unemployment rate increased from 5.5 percent in December to 5.6 percent in January. It had the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state behind Monroe County at 4.6 percent.
Okaloosa County tied with Alachua County at 6 percent for the third-lowest unemployment rate in the state. Okaloosa County’s December unemployment rate was 5.8 percent.
Santa Rosa County’s unemployment rate of 7.3 percent in January was up slightly from its December rate of 7.1 percent. It tied with Nassau and Baker counties for the 18th-lowest unemployment rate in the state.
Goetsch said sequestration will continue to have an impact on the local and state unemployment numbers going forward.
“Even with sequestration, we’ll still have the best rates in the state,” Goetsch said. “But here will be the difference, because so much of the impact of sequestration will not be unemployment but furloughs. Furlough will trickle down. It will cause some unemployment because if people from the base start spending less money because they have less money, it will show up in the service sector, the restaurants, the grocery stores, the convenience stores.”
Contact Daily News Business Editor Dusty Ricketts at 850-315-4448 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DustyRnwfdn.