Florida unemployment rate highest in 16 years

01/23/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Florida's unemployment rate in December jumped to 8.1 percent, the highest it’s been September 1992. The Tampa Bay Area’s unemployment rate is now 8.3 percent.

Rebecca Rust with the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation says specific industries have been devastated in this downturn.

State legislators just completed a special session where they cut $2.8 billion in government spending to deal with a deficit. But they refused to consider raising taxes on cigarettes, despite a poll published Thursday indicating that more than 70 percent of the state supported that user fee.

Mark Soskin is an associate professor of economics at the University of Central Florida. He says Florida has a structural deficit, the state would be suffering even if there wasn’t the national recession hitting the country. He says that’s because of the absence of the fast growth that sustained the state for years.

Recently the state Legislature approved an economic stimulus plan proposed by Gov. Charlie Crist that provides $10 million in loans and support services for small businesses with 10 to 50 employees. Professor Soskin says that the move is necessary because of a declining manufacturing and tourism base, and the lack of a sufficient way to raise revenue.

Eliminating some of the myriad and seemingly arbitrary tax exemptions in the state is not a new issue, but the idea is growing as members of the Republican-dominated Legislature look at ways to eliminate an even bigger deficit later this year.

Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor said yesterday that Florida could get more than $4 billion in added federal Medicaid funding this year in the economic stimulus package being worked on in Congress.

Officials in Florida, as in every state in the country, are eagerly anticipating what funding they’ll get from Washington once that legislation is passed.

Rust with the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation says all indications are that things will get worse with the Sunshine State’s economy before it gets better. For more information on Florida’s workforce system that provides programs and services, visit floridajobs.com.

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