Florida’s unemployment rate held steady in November, as businesses did not boost seasonal hiring as much as usual amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday posted a 6.4 percent jobless rate for November, equal to a revised jobless mark for October. The rate indicates 651,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed in mid-November, just 7,000 fewer than a month earlier.
The October mark had initially been estimated at 6.5 percent before being revised. The unemployment rate in November 2019, before the pandemic hammered the economy, was 2.8 percent.
The metropolitan Jacksonville area's unemployment rate was 5.2%, rising from 4.8% in October, which means 40,867 people were looking for work on the First Coast last month.
Adrienne Johnston, the department’s chief of the Bureau of Labor Market Statistics, pointed to a failure of seasonal retail hiring to reach demand from past years.
“I think we're seeing where people are shopping online a little bit more of the season. Businesses did not add as many employees to their payrolls,” Johnson told reporters in a conference call.
And while Johnston outlined agency long-term projections that indicate food and drinking establishments will gain the most jobs over the next eight years, she said it is hard to project short-term impacts of the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, which began coming to the state this week.
“It certainly could play a large role,” Johnston said. “But we're already seeing things coming back to a large extent, too.”
The state has regained nearly 60 percent of the 1.18 million jobs lost between February and April as the pandemic took hold. However, tourism-related leisure and hospitality fields, which picked up 11,800 jobs from October to November, mostly at hotels and restaurants, continue to be the most severely impacted, down 187,500 jobs from a year ago.
“The good news is we are seeing people come back into the labor market. Our labor force is growing,” Johnston said. “Businesses are creating jobs, so we are seeing things come back.”
The national unemployment rate for November was announced last week as inching down to 6.7 percent, from 6.9 percent, while Congress continues to discuss a wide-ranging relief package that could include $900 billion in relief funding.
The NFIB Research Center estimated Monday that without further federal assistance, about 25 percent of small-businesses owners will have to close their doors in the next six months, with another 22 percent being able to hold out for seven months to a year.
“Between now and the success of any vaccine is going to be the hardest time of all for small businesses affected by COVID,” Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business-Florida, said in a prepared statement.
The decrease in the national unemployment rate in November was linked primarily to a large number of workers leaving the labor force.
Meanwhile, Florida saw its workforce grow by 49,000, from 10.097 million in October to 10.146 million in November.
A year ago, the state had a workforce of 10.4 million, with 297,000 out of work.
The categories of professional and business services in Florida were down 3.9 percent from a year ago, education and health services were off 1.9 percent, manufacturing was down 1.7 percent, and construction was down 2 percent.
The tourism-heavy Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan statistical area maintained the highest unemployment rate at 7.7 percent, with Osceola County unemployment at 9.7 percent and Orange County at 8.1 percent.
Next highest was the Lakeland-Winter Haven metropolitan statistical area at 7.4 percent, followed by the metropolitan statistical area from Miami to West Palm Beach at 7 percent.
The Orlando areahas lost about 125,000 jobs over the year, while more than 267,000 jobs are missing from the Miami-to-West Palm Beach area.
Just two regions, the Ocala metropolitan statistical area, with a 6 percent unemployment rate, and the Sebring metropolitan statistical area, with a 6.6 percent rate, have recorded over-the-year gains in jobs. Ocala has added 1,900 jobs, while Sebring is up 200.
The lowest unemployment was found in the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin metropolitical statistical area in the Panhandle, at 4.3 percent, up from 3.8 percent in October.
The unemployment rate in the nearby metropolitan statistical area that includes Pensacola increased from 4.8 percent to 5.3 percent, while the Panama City area went up from 4.5 percent to 5.1 percent.
The unemployment rate in the Gainesville metropolitan statistical area stood at 4.7 percent in November, up from 4.2 percent in October.
- WJCT News' Bill Bortzfield contributed to this report.