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Unemployment falls in Jacksonville, but more people are quitting their jobs

An employee hands unemployment paperwork.
An employee hands unemployment paperwork.

While slightly above the national mark, Florida’s unemployment rate inched down to 4.9% in September as workers appear to have become more selective about jobs.

Jacksonville's rate was even lower at 3.7%, down from 4.3% in August and 5.2% a year ago.

The Jacksonville area added 32,400 new private-sector jobs over the year, a 4.9% increase, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced. The leisure and hospitality industry gained the most: 8,800 jobs.

While the state has ramped up efforts since May to push people back into the labor force, it has also seen the number of people leaving jobs, over issues including pay and benefits, jump from 193,000 in September 2020 to 264,000 in the latest report. Unemployment dropped by only 0.1 percentage point statewide.

“Eventually, (workers) are going to have to decide, do they want to go back to work or are they just going to leave the workforce entirely?” Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle said in a conference call with reporters. “So, the message to employers is yes, look, if they're having trouble hiring, they have to get creative. They have to make decisions about what do they want to do to market themselves to be attractive to those in the job market. And that's free market economics. And that's what we support here in Florida.”

Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief economist, said people leaving jobs for other opportunities is a sign they are confident they can find better work.

“While we are seeing an increase in people quitting since last year, what is really interesting about that is that they are quitting but they are still saying they are looking for work,” Johnston said. “Traditionally, this is considered to be an optimistic sign. That means people are quitting because they are confident that they can find a job somewhere else.”

The national unemployment rate in September was 4.8%, down from 5.2% in August. In all, 27 states showed lower rates in September than August. Only Massachusetts, where the rate went up 0.2 percentage points, posted an increase.

In a video release on Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted the state’s non-agricultural employment, where the number of jobs grew by 84,500 month-to-month.

“That's a big chunk of the national numbers that were reported in September,” DeSantis said in the video. “We’re 6½ percent of the population, and then the jobs added (a) much, much greater percentage. So, we want to continue to work hard to provide people opportunity, create an environment that people want to work and live and thrive for themselves and their families.”

On Thursday, DeSantis called for a special legislative session next month to erect roadblocks against COVID-19 vaccination mandates being advanced by the White House for millions of workers across the country. On Wednesday, he called for the use of Florida ports as an alternative to Southern California ports, which have had bottlenecks of cargo ships.

Since the pandemic pushed nearly 1.27 million Floridians out of work between February and April 2020, the state has regained just over 1 million jobs.

Eagle cautioned that it will still take some time for the effort started in May to get the unemployment rate back to pre-pandemic levels.

The Panhandle region reported the lowest unemployment in the state last month, while Sebring and the Villages in Central Florida had the highest rates of people looking for work.

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida