Florida's jobs report undermines official optimism

TALLAHASSEE, Florida Fri Sep 21, 2012 4:03pm EDT

Job candidates receive information as they enter a U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Jobs Fair in Miami, Florida August 23, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Job candidates receive information as they enter a U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Jobs Fair in Miami, Florida August 23, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Joe Skipper

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida's unemployment rate held at 8.8 percent for a second consecutive month in August, authorities said on Friday, in a report dealing a new blow to Republican Governor Rick Scott.

Scott, who has spent the past several months touting his state's economic recovery, highlighted the 28,000 new jobs created in August. Florida's jobless level, however, continues to lag behind the rest of the nation which saw the unemployment rate in August fall to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July.

"This increase in new jobs is proving that the decisions we're making here in Florida are pointing our state in the right direction," Scott said in a statement.

The governor's oft repeated claim that Florida is leading the nation in job growth is being challenged by data that indicates Florida's recovery is far from seamless.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, says Scott and President Barack Obama both made bold promises during their campaigns that may be hard to deliver.

"They both may have painted themselves into a corner," MacManus said.

The state's unemployment rate, until recent months, had been dropping faster than the national average. Other indicators tell another story about the state's jobs market.

Last month the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research released an analysis that attributed a large portion of Florida's falling unemployment rate - about 70 percent - to a reduction in the labor force and not to people getting back to work.

A recent study by Florida International University reported that Florida led the nation in the number of long-term unemployed in 2011, with more than half of jobless workers still looking for work after six months compared to just under 44 percent nationwide.

Such economic dissonance spilled over earlier this week as Scott bristled when pressed on the numbers by reporters, cutting off a series of questions on the apparent disconnect between his message and the less encouraging economic indicators.

Scott campaigned for office in 2010 almost exclusively on economic development, and calls himself the "Jobs Governor".

He pledged to create 700,000 private sector jobs in Florida over seven years, in addition to the estimated 1 million new jobs that were expected to be created "naturally" by population growth.

That earlier promise was redefined shortly after Scott took office, with the governor saying the 700,000 goal included all jobs. Asked this week if he would make that goal, Scott was unequivocal.

"Absolutely, no question," Scott said.

Hi hopes of reducing the unemployment rate have been thwarted in part due to Scott's own effort to shrink the state bureaucracy. Government employment fell by 5,300 in August.

Other newly released data paint a bleak picture. On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report that median income in Florida dropped 2.9 percent in 2011. The state's median income fell to $44,299 in 2011 from $45,609 in 2010, according the Census' American Community Survey. The national median income was $50,502.

The survey also found that 17.3 percent - about one-in-six - Floridians were living below the poverty level, about $23,000 for a family of four. That's up from 16.5 percent in 2010. National poverty rates also went up. Both state and national rates have climbed for the past four years.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

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