REPORTED UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FOR FLORIDA AS OF JULY 2013, DOWN FROM 9.4 PERCENT IN DECEMBER 2011
THE NUMBER OF JOBS STILL REQUIRED IN FLORIDA TO MATCH PEAK LEVELS DURING THE ECONOMIC BOOM PRECEDING THE RECESSION
PORTION OF THE 2.3 PERCENT DROP IN FLORIDA’S UNEMPLOYMENT RATE THAT CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO PEOPLE LEAVING THE WORKFORCE OR DELAYING ENTRY
“WITH FLORIDA’S POPULARITY AMONGST RETIREES AND THE AGING BABY-BOOMER POPULATION, RETIREMENT IS CERTAINLY AN IMPORTANT FACTOR THAT CONTRIBUTES TO A DECLINE IN THE LABOR FORCE, IN ADDITION TO THOSE LEAVING THE LABOR FORCE TO CONTINUE EDUCATION”
– GOV. RICK SCOTT’S CHIEF ECONOMIST REBECCA RUST IN a SEPT. 5 MEMO
– Sources: Miami Herald, edr.state.fl.us
Because everything political has devolved into a sinister shade of opposite day lately – Republicans hate war; Obamacare isn’t happening – it should only make sense that the very same economic arguments so readily foisted upon the Obama administration in response to claims of economic recovery and job creation would eventually trickle down to our own “It’s Working” chrome-dome of gubernatorial inadequacy. Sure, the unemployment number is decreasing, see, but that doesn’t include the unquantifiable haze of everybody who has just given up, they say, as the national unemployment rate continues to dip to its lowest point (7.3 percent in August) since December 2008. You can’t win this, commie!
Same goes for Florida, right? Not if the marketing machine is to be believed. Gov. Rick Scott has prided himself – all two and a half years of his shambolic tenure – on the notion that he has the secret magic dust (tax cuts and incentives, basically) that actually makes jobs happen in the Sunshine State, virtually in spite of any federal efforts to improve the economy. And, by utilizing his own cherry-picked employment statistics, Scott has somehow managed to cling to his re-election hood ornament: Unemployment is lower in Florida (7.1 percent) than it is nationally. We’re bucking trends, showing the man, the story goes; never mind that everyone in the state is scraping two pennies together to make copper sandwiches for dinner before racing out to Walmart to get arrested while protesting for a living wage or picketing outside Orlando Health headquarters and threatening to start a union because of drastic pay cuts. It’s working, and we should just be glad that we are, too.
Except many of us aren’t, apparently. On Sept. 4, the state’s nonpartisan Office of Economic and Demographic Research released a wide-ranging – largely boring – report on Florida’s economic health. Within its 108 pages was this little thorn of painful truth: “If job creation has been relatively stable, why has Florida seen a marked decline in its unemployment rate? The answer lies in the labor force participation rate. The reported unemployment rate has dropped from 9.4 percent to 7.1 percent from December 2011 to July 2013, a change of 2.3 percentage points. If the participation rate had held steady since December 2011 when the labor force peaked, the unemployment rate would have been 8.2 percent. This indicates that 47.8 percent of the drop in the unemployment rate is due to people dropping out of the labor force or delaying entrance.”
In other words, half of what seems to be improvement is actually the opposite. Uh-oh. In order to soften the blow of the report, Gov. Scott pulled his chief economist out of the dusty tabulation room and set her to a rapid spin cycle.
“It remains unclear why some economic analysis would rather highlight the negative factors of the economy when there are numerous indicators reflecting the improving statewide job market over the last two and half years,” Rebecca Rust wrote in a Sept. 5 memo, according to the Miami Herald.
Stop looking at the bad stuff! OK, so here’s some of the bad stuff. Even though Gov. Scott promised to create 700,000 jobs over seven years, there are still 515,100 fewer jobs than there were in boom times about seven years ago (he claims to have created 369,100 as of last month, natch). While workforce participation nationally may be at the lowest it’s been since 1978 (63.2 percent), Florida’s participation rate is at an even more startling 60 percent. Florida also has a lower personal income average ($43,205) than the whole of the U.S. ($49,289) – a bigger gap has not been seen since 2001, according to the Jacksonville Times-Union. So that feeling that you have of certain doom is somewhat justified. Hooray?
Naturally, Scott’s folks would have you believe that this is everyone else’s fault. That the raw numbers provided by the federal government and used in the state’s economic report are dicey and not necessarily accurate. That you need to bear in mind that people are retiring all the time, going back to school all the time, having babies to stay home with all the time, so there can be no accurate comparison here. Besides, the big numbers that we’re shilling are improving, OK? Just don’t look too closely. It’s totally working, guys.