TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - As COVID-19 vaccination efforts expand across Florida, the state's unemployment rate ticked down in February.
Florida's jobless rate went from 4.8 percent in January to 4.7 percent in February, according to numbers released Friday by the state Department of Economic Opportunity. That was better than the national rate of 6.2 percent.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was in Port Canaveral on Friday discussing ways to revive the passenger cruise industry amid the pandemic, said the jobless numbers are better than what many people expected.
"That's a 4.7 percent, which is much better than anyone predicted we would be at a year ago," he said. "But that's 4.7 percent where we have one of our major industries that have been idled by the federal government for over a year, the cruise line industry."
The February rate reflects an estimated 474,000 Floridians out of work from a workforce of 10.1 million.
The number of unemployed people was 124,000 higher than in February 2020, just before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the state and national economy. The February 2020 unemployment rate was 3.3 percent.
In addition to people still looking for work, the new numbers indicate another 337,000 Floridians had left the workforce over the previous year and don't qualify for state or federal assistance.
The Department of Economic Opportunity has since March 15, 2020, distributed nearly $24.75 billion in state and federal relief to 2.3 million claimants.
Adrienne Johnston, the department's chief economist, said labor-force numbers should continue to improve as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"As more people become vaccinated, then certainly they're going to feel more confident to go back and connect into the labor market, to go back into purchasing goods and services and engage in economic activity," Johnston said. "And as that happens, that's certainly going to drive employment up and reduce our unemployment overall."
More than 5.3 million people in Florida have received at least one vaccination shot. More than 2 million people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19, and about 33,000 Floridians have died.
On Thursday, DeSantis announced that all Floridians ages 40 and older will be able to receive COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday and that all adults will be eligible on April 5.
The Department of Economic Opportunity said Florida has recovered 709,200 of the 1.27 million jobs lost between February and April of 2020.
Still, the biggest impacts remain in the leisure and hospitality industry, which lost 286,200 jobs, or 22.4 percent of its workforce, from February 2020 to last month.
Across the state, only one of 24 metro areas had seen job growth in the year-long period, the Lakeland-Winter Haven region, which was up 3,100 jobs.
"Every region was impacted a little bit differently, every region had a different approach to mitigation efforts, and their industry mix is certainly going to impact that," Johnston said. "So, if there's more of a trade, transportation presence in certain areas, then they may not be impacted as much. Other parts of Central Florida are heavily reliant on tourism, and so that's certainly going to prolong the impact for those areas."
The tourism-dependent Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan statistical area, which lost 168,500 jobs over the year-long period, had the highest unemployment rate in February at 6.5 percent, followed by the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area at 6.3 percent.
(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida Jim Turner contributed to this report.)
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