By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Despite the leisure and hospitality industry still struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, Florida’s unemployment rate continues to improve as vaccinations increase and people return to the workforce.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity reported Monday that Florida’s unemployment rate decreased to 4.8 percent in January, down 0.3 percentage points from a revised December rate.
Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, said even as people return to the overall labor force, the need to revitalize the vital leisure and hospitality industry continues to be a focus.
“We’re continuing to see some job losses in the leisure and hospitality industry,” Johnston said in a conference call with reporters. “We know in January, there were some additional layoffs in the tourism industry related to some of the theme parks. And so that seems to be continuing to drive most of the job loss. We also saw some losses in professional business services as well in January.”
As of January, the leisure and hospitality industry had lost 284,100 jobs, or 22.3 percent of jobs, over the past year, according to the state agency.
Retail jobs were off 3.9 percent from a year earlier, and transportation, warehouse and utility jobs were down 5.0 percent. Also, education positions were down 3.3 percent, health care and social assistance jobs were off 4.2 percent, construction jobs fell 1.7 percent and manufacturing jobs were down 2.6 percent.
The report was released as more than 4.2 million people in Florida have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and the daily average of new coronavirus cases has been just over 4,500 a day the past week, the lowest daily average since a surge of cases started in early November.
Florida initially reported its December unemployment rate at 6.1 percent, but that number was subsequently revised to 5.1 percent. Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted decisions made last year to allow businesses to reopen and to have in-person learning in schools.
“We really follow the data and made the right decisions about keeping kids in school, keeping the economy going,” DeSantis said Friday while in Sebastian.
While DeSantis has complained that a distribution formula will shortchange Florida, at least $17.6 billion of a new federal stimulus package is heading to Florida, with the state government in line for more than $10 billion. Lawmakers are already planning to possibly use some of the money for transportation and water projects.
“We discussed potentially using some of that money for one-time type of projects, like road construction, water projects, things of that nature,” Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said Thursday. “Nothing’s been decided. So, there’s no agreements. But the idea of being able to stimulate our economy through doing those types of projects would be meaningful.”
After businesses shut down last spring because of the pandemic, the state’s unemployment rate peaked at 12.9 percent in April. The January rate represents 482,000 jobless Floridians from a labor force that has fallen to 10.07 million.
The rate is better than the national mark of 6.3 percent for January. It is 1.5 percentage points higher than in January 2020, when Florida’s labor force had an additional 390,000 participants.
“Our labor force is much smaller. We did lose people as a whole in the labor force, and that was part of the revisions that were done for last year’s data,” Johnston said. “But towards the end of the year and continuing in January, we’ve seen people coming back into the labor force. So, we’re actually seeing a reversal of that trend.”
Across Florida, the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metropolitan statistical area had the lowest unemployment at 3.9 percent, followed by the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin area.
Among counties, Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, was at 3.5 percent.
At the other end, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan statistical area, which has topped the state in COVID-19 cases, had the highest unemployment at 6.4 percent.
The Sebring and Homosassa Springs metropolitan areas were next at 6.3 percent.
The tourism-dependent Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area was at 5.8 percent.
The Jacksonville metropolitan area was at 4.4 percent, and the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area was at 4.6 percent.
The statewide 4.8 percent unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted, while the local rates are not.