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Updated: 03/21/2013 08:00:04AM

Florida unemployment at 4-year low

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TALLAHASSEE – The jobless rate dipped slightly in Florida in January, but the tiny percentage point decline marked a huge psychological milestone. However in Polk County, the figure went up .01 percent.

In dropping from 7.9 percent in December to 7.8 percent in January, Florida’s jobless rate went below the national rate, which was 7.9 percent in January, for the first time since January of 2008.

Gov. Rick Scott, who ran almost solely on a platform of lowering the state’s jobless rate, it was more vindication that his “let’s get to work” theme is showing success.

“Everything we do is geared toward job creation — today we have more proof that: It’s working,” Scott said in a statement, hitting a new catchphrase he’s rolled out in the last couple of months.

In Polk County, January’s figure was 8.8 percent after it posted 8.7 percent in December. But compared to last January’s figure, the unemployment was well below then, which was 10.5 percent.

The 8.8 percent though put Polk County as the 18th highest county in Florida and the Lakeland-Winter Metropolitan Statistical Area ranked sixth in the state.

Scott went to Mitsubishi Power Systems in Orlando to highlight the new state numbers, while continuing to call for a tax break for manufacturers who are buying new equipment.

“We are glad to see our unemployment rate fall below the national average for the first time in years, but our work isn’t done until every Floridian who wants a job can find one,” Scott said.

In dropping to 7.8 percent, Florida’s jobless rate is now at its lowest point since November of 2008, near the beginning of the recession, and down from over 9 percent just a year ago.

And rather than simply improving the rate by losing workers from the workforce — as was the case with some earlier gains — Florida’s economy created jobs in January, the Department of Economic Opportunity said.

There were 15,400 more jobs in January than in December, a 0.2 percent increase, putting the total employment in the state at more than 7.4 million. Trade, transportation and utilities led the way in job growth among all sectors, DEO said.

A tourism rebound is also starting to be evident. The hospitality industry continued to come back in January, with 3.5 percent growth in job creation. Construction was slightly down month-to-month, but year-over-year the building industry is up 7 percent.

Monroe County, which is made up of the Florida Keys, continued to have the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 4.6 percent, followed by Walton, Alachua and Okaloosa counties, all at 6 percent or lower.

Hendry County continued to struggle, with an 11.4 percent unemployment rate. Flagler, Putnam, Dixie and St. Lucie counties all had rates above 10 percent.

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