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Florida's unchanged jobless rate encouraging

That it didn't increase at summer's end - as it normally does - plus talk of hiring to come hint at better times ahead.

By MARK ALBRIGHT
Published September 20, 2003

The unemployment rate remained virtually unchanged in Florida and the Tampa Bay area in August, which state officials see as one of several promising signs that hiring is on the verge of an upswing.

"Normally unemployment rate bumps up a bit at the end of the summer and it did not this August," said Warren May, spokesman for the state Agency for Workforce Innovation. "We also are seeing more activity among employee leasing and temp companies, which is usually a precursor to more new jobs."

Officials cited a Manpower Inc. survey released this week in which 22 percent of employers in the bay area said they plan to hire more workers during the fourth quarter. None of those surveyed planned to reduce employment. The same survey a year ago found 13 percent planned to prune their payroll.

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 5.3 percent in August, down marginally from 5.4 percent in July and slightly better than 5.5 percent in August 2002.

Florida fared better than the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent in August.

So did the Tampa Bay area where the August unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, the same as it was in July and slightly improved over the 4.6 percent of August 2002.

Bay area hotels and other tourist industry businesses trimmed jobs in anticipation of the slower fall season. But that was more than offset by increased hiring in education, local government, construction and financial/insurance services.

The area reported a net increase of 13,800 jobs.

Joblessness was higher than the statewide or national rates in South Florida markets during August, including: Miami-Dade, 7.4 percent; West Palm Beach/Boca Raton, 6.3 percent; and Fort Lauderdale, 5.9 percent. Unemployment in Lakeland/Winter Haven was 7.5 percent.

Rural Hendry County, which posted seasonal slowdowns in crop production, reported the state's highest unemployment rate at 17 percent. Monroe County in the Florida Keys was the lowest at 1.9 percent.

- Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or 727 893-8252.

[Last modified September 20, 2003, 02:03:01]

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