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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 22, 202112:50 PM EST

Jacksonville-area unemployment rate falls to 4.8% in December

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The region ended 2020 with big job losses amid the pandemic and recent data make the outlook for 2021 unclear.
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Jacksonville’s unemployment rate fell in December but Northeast Florida ended 2020 with huge job losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unemployment rate in the Jacksonville metropolitan area of Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties fell from a revised 5% in November to 4.8% in December, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said Jan. 22.

The jobless rate at the end of the year was well above the record low of 2.6% at the end of 2019.

“The month-to-month changes in labor force and employment numbers in the last few months of 2020 sketch the current stage of the recovery: a market with anxious workers who couldn’t wait to return to work and cautious employers who had to justify hiring with evidence of solid demand,” University of North Florida economist Albert Loh said.

University of North Florida economist Albert Loh said.

“The employment increase in December, the last month in the shopping season, appeared to be delayed from November, but it is better late than never,” he said.

The state agency does not adjust the Jacksonville area data for seasonal factors. However, when adjusting the data for seasonal factors such as normal holiday hiring, the jobless rate rose last month, Loh said.

UNF’s Local Economic Indicators Project reported the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased from 5.01% in November to 5.29% in December.

While some businesses added staff in December, the year ended with big job losses for the full year.

Nonfarm businesses in the Jacksonville area reported a net loss of 25,700 jobs from December 2019 through December 2020, a 3.5% drop, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Every major private industry sector lost jobs during the year. The only sector growing jobs was government, which increased by 1,100, or 1.4%.

The biggest job losses came in sectors hard hit by the pandemic. The leisure and hospitality sector dropped by 10,400, or 11.9%, and retail trade fell 5,000, or 6%.

Duval County’s unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percentage points to 5.3% in December, without seasonal adjustment.

Loh said on a seasonally adjusted basis, the rate fell from 6.09% in November to 5.18% in December.

The other four counties in the metropolitan area all had lower jobless rates than Duval and three of the counties ranked among the seven lowest of all 67 Florida counties, without any seasonal adjustments.

St. Johns County tied with Wakulla County for the lowest rate at 3.6%, down from 3.8% in November.

Clay County fell from 4.1% to 3.9% and Nassau fell from 4.1% to 4% to also rank among the lowest.

Baker County’s rate fell by 0.1 point to 4.5% in December.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell by 0.2 point to 6.1% in December, the Department of Economic Opportunity said.

The agency’s next report on the January labor market will not be released until March 15. The January report is delayed every year as revisions are made to the previous year’s data.

Recent data on the Florida labor market makes the outlook unclear. The U.S. Department of Labor’s weekly update on new claims for unemployment insurance had reported Jan. 14 that new claims in Florida tripled to 75,444 in the week ended Jan. 9, a troubling sign for the state’s economy.

However, the federal agency’s latest report on Jan. 21 revised the data to show new claims were 30,583 for the week ended Jan. 9. That’s slightly higher than the average weekly total of about 26,000 over the previous two months but much lower than the initial report.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity referred questions about the revision to the U.S. Labor Department.

However, a spokesman for the federal agency said by email the revised data came from the state.

“Florida did not provide an explanation for the downward revision of the January 9 claims,” he said.

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