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Highlands jobless rate drops to 8.5 percent

Published:   |   Updated: March 11, 2013 at 09:36 PM

It's good news, but it isn't real good.

Highlands County's unemployment rate dropped from 10.4 percent last November to 8.5 percent in November 2012.

How did that happen? For the past four months, Highlands County has rated number one or two in Florida in job placement.

More good news: Highlands has the lowest unemployment rate among its neighboring counties: Hardee is 8.5; DeSoto, 8.7; Glades and Polk, 9; and Okeechobee, 9.4.

These are the best numbers Highlands has seen since the Great Recession began in 2009, Heartland Workforce President Roger Hood said. The Highlands labor force has increased from 42,697 in November 2011 to 44,375 in November 2012. Only 3,760 report not having jobs.

But that's where the good news ends.

"It paints a rosy picture, doesn't it?" Hood said. "But when you look at the type of jobs they were hired into, they are lower-paid jobs."

"My feeling right now is that the salaries paid today are not equitable to before the recession," Hood said. "Quality of life hasn't improved, it has somewhat dwindled."

Three statistics bear out Hood's thinking:

In 2011, 65 percent of job hires were agricultural. For the majority, that means no training, low hourly wages and few fringe benefits like health insurance and paid holidays.

The second statistic is that the Heartland Workforce region — Highlands, DeSoto and Hardee counties — reports the lowest average wages of the 26 Florida workforce regions.

The third statistic is average annual wages, which dropped $488 to $29,295 per worker in 2011.

"We need value-added jobs," Hood said.

Florida's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in November 2012, the lowest since November 2008 when it was 7.8 percent. There were 760,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 9,343,000.

The industry gaining the most jobs was leisure and hospitality (+31,200 jobs, +3.3 percent).

Sixteen of the 22 metro areas in the state had over-the-year job gains in November 2012. The largest gains were in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (+22,900 jobs, +2.0 percent) and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford (+21,400 jobs, +2.1 percent).

Florida's November rate was down 0.4 percent from the October rate of 8.5 percent and was 2 percent lower than the year-ago rate of 10.1 percent. This was the second time in 2012 that the rate fell 0.4 percentage point over the month.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in November. Nationally, the number of jobs was up 1.4 percent over the year. (863) 386-5828

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