The Associated Press June 17, 2011, 1:46PM ET

Florida jobless rate drops again to 10.6 percent

Florida's unemployment rate dropped slightly in May, decreasing for a fifth straight month, and the state continued to add rather than lose jobs, labor officials said Friday.

The Agency for Workforce Innovation announced Florida's seasonally adjusted jobless rate was down by two-tenths of a percentage point to 10.6 percent.

Florida also added 28,000 nonagricultural jobs in May, an increase of 0.4 percent. The number of nonagricultural jobs in the state is up 24,900 over the year, an increase of 0.3 percent from May 2010. The over-the-year figure is lower because of job losses in several of those 12 months.

"Our unemployment rate is now the lowest it has been in 21 months, and we can expect our state's heightened focus on economic recovery to spur additional job growth in the months ahead," said Cynthia Lorenzo, the agency's director.

It'll need to grow considerably, though, for Gov. Rick Scott to keep his promise of adding 700,000 new jobs in seven years. Those would be in addition to the million jobs expected to be created over that span as Florida's economy recovers from the Great Recession. The current annual growth rate would add only 174,300 jobs in seven years.

The Republican governor, who campaigned on a platform of job growth through making Florida friendlier to business, on Tuesday signed a new law designed to foster economic development by consolidating most of those activities into a new Department of Economic Opportunity effective Oct. 1.

The law also is expected to help the state more quickly react to business development opportunities by shortening the deadline for acting on incentive funding requests to 10 days instead of as many as 42 and letting Scott hand out incentives of up to $2 million without legislative approval.

While Florida's jobless rate has dropped every month since Scott took office in January, it remained 1.5 percentage points above the national unemployment rate for May of 9.1 percent.

April marked the first time fewer than a million Floridians were out of work since October 2009.

The under-a-million trend continued in May, with 980,000 jobless workers in the state. That's 17,000 fewer than April.

May's unemployment rate declined even though Florida's labor force increased by 5,000. May also marked the eighth consecutive month of positive over-the-year job growth since Florida started losing jobs in July 2007.

The leisure and hospitality industry led the way by adding 45,100 jobs, an increase of 4.9 percent, since May 2010. Other sectors with positive growth include private education, health services, trade, transportation, utilities, and professional and business services.

Government, once one of Florida's strongest job sectors has become its weakest, losing 41,500 jobs over the year. A key factor in that 3.6 percent decline, though, has been the loss of temporary census jobs.

The counties with the lowest unemployment largely remain those with a heavy reliance on government employment. Monroe, which includes the Florida Keys, posted the lowest rate of 6.3 percent in May, followed by Liberty, 6.5 percent; Walton, 6.6 percent; Okaloosa, 6.9 percent; and Lafayette, 7.1 percent.

Next hardest-hit has been construction, losing 14,500 jobs, or 4.1 percent, since May of last year. Counties with the highest unemployment rates have been heavily affected by construction job losses.

Flagler had Florida's highest jobless rate in May at 13.8 percent. Next were Miami-Dade, 13.7 percent; Hendry, 13.3 percent; Hernando, 12.9 percent; and Indian River and St. Lucie, both 12.5 percent.

Thirty-two of Florida's 67 counties had double-digit jobless rates.


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