TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's unemployment rate is up slightly, economists reported Friday.
The latest numbers from Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity show the rate grew a tenth of a percent from March to April, landing at 4.8 percent. The current national average is 6.1 percent.
The good news is that the state's labor force grew too, up 73,000 over the month. It now sits at its highest since the pandemic began.
Florida also recorded 12 consecutive months of job growth, gaining about 19,000 private-sector jobs in April. Hospitality and leisure took the lion's share, though at a slower rate than other industries.
DEO's chief economist Adrienne Johnston said the data overall showed positive signs for Florida’s recovery, despite the unemployment uptick.
Florida's unemployment rate has hovered around 4.8% since January. Johnston says she doesn't believe recovery is leveling out, however. "While the unemployment rate has remained pretty level-- what we are seeing is that the labor force is increasing..." pic.twitter.com/VRczc2yCJL— Forrest Saunders (@FBSaunders) May 21, 2021
"I wouldn't say recovery is slowing based on that one number," she said in a conference call with reporters. "You have to combine it with more people getting employed and our jobs are continuing to grow."
While progress is solid, there's still work to do. The jobless rate remained above pre-pandemic levels and thousands are still collecting benefits.
Add to that, there is a growing frustration for some business owners who told the Capitol press corps recently that finding job seekers to fill positions has been a challenge.
"I would have never imagined that we would be in this area right now, looking for people," said Melode Smelko, owner of Tallahassee-based Altrua Global Solutions. "Our biggest hurdle is finding employees."
DEO announced the Return to Work initiative last week to help make connections between prospective employees and employers. DEO Director Dane Eagle said bridging that gap is becoming a new struggle for a new year.
"All over the panhandle, I've seen signs that say welcome to the new pandemic," he said. "The 2021 pandemic is unemployment, not being able to hire."
Critics have said the new program doesn't address Florida's need for better wages.
They also have concerns officials will follow what other states have done recently, cutting off the federal boost to unemployment benefits before they expire this fall. Oklahoma, Texas and Indiana have been the latest to nudge claimants back to work.
Eagle said last week the option is something Florida is still considering. But, for now, he said his focus is on linking jobs and job seekers.