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Many residents find it pays to commute

As unemployment rises a full percentage point, workers continue to leave the county for better jobs and better pay.

By TERESA BURNEY, Times Correspondent
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

Hernando County is no island when it comes to employment.

Every weekday, more than half of the local working folk hop into their cars and head south on U.S. 19, U.S. 41, the Suncoast Parkway or Interstate 75 to work.

In most cases, they leave Hernando for better pay at jobs that simply do not exist in the county.

Most available jobs in Hernando are in the service industries, where pay is low and advancement opportunities are limited.

"It's hard to really increase your worth in a service-type job, unless you go into management," said Tony Melendez, employment services manager for Career Central, the unemployment clearinghouse in Pasco and Hernando counties. "Those industries just pay less."

The slower national economy took its toll on Hernando County workers last year, and with the closing of two Kmart stores early this year, it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The average unemployment rate in Hernando rose a full percentage point last year, from 4.2 percent in 2001 to 5.2 percent in 2002. The number of people out of work climbed from 2,108 to 2,650 last year, while the labor force as a whole grew from 48,320 to 50,428.

Still, Hernando fared slightly better than the state as a whole, which had a 5.3 percent unemployment rate, and the United States, which had a rate of 5.8 percent.

But Hernando fared worse than the Tampa-St. Petersburg statistical area, which had a 4.5 percent unemployment rate.

The county's loss of several manufacturers in 2002, including Thomas & Betts and United Plastics, no doubt helped boost local unemployment.

And, since so many people commute outside the county for work, layoffs in other counties also affect local workers.

The closure of Flextronics in Pinellas County was a significant hit to the Hernando job market, said Melendez.

Other layoffs in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties also had an impact on Hernando's unemployment rate. U.S. Airways, Bank of America, Charles Schwab and Physicians Health Care all laid off some Hernando County workers, he said.

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