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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 1, 201312:00 PM EST

Jacksonville unemployment rate drops to 7 percent

by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Jacksonville's unemployment rate fell in February to its lowest level in more than four years, as the labor market continued to show improvement.

The jobless rate for the Jacksonville metropolitan area – consisting of Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties – dropped from 7.5 percent in January to 7 percent in February, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported Friday.

The state agency does not adjust its data for seasonal factors. However, the University of North Florida's Local Economic Indicators Project reported that when the data is seasonally adjusted, it shows the Jacksonville area unemployment rate fell from 7.07 percent in January to 6.93 percent in February.

That was the lowest unemployment rate for the area since October 2008, said UNF economist Paul Mason.

"It's fallen for about six months in a row, so it's good news," he said.

The unemployment rate for Duval County was higher than the rest of the metropolitan area at 7.5 percent in February. However, St. Johns County was significantly lower, at 5.8 percent, and Clay and Nassau counties were both at 6.4 percent.

St. Johns County had one of the lowest unemployment rates of any Florida county, according to the state agency.

Flagler County, which has been severely impacted by a drop-off in construction activity, continued to have one of the highest jobless rates in the state at 10.3 percent.

Statewide, Florida's unemployment rate fell by 0.2-percentage points to a seasonally-adjusted 7.7 percent, also the lowest since October 2008, the agency said.

While the state's unemployment rate has been falling, the Florida Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research said in a report earlier this week that part of the drop can be attributed to a decrease in participation in the labor force.

When people become discouraged and stop actively looking for work, they are not counted as part of the labor force so they are not included in unemployment statistics.

However, in Jacksonville, the labor force grew by nearly 1,500 people in February, so the drop in the unemployment rate reflects more people finding jobs.

"It's a lot of good news," Mason said.

The data released Friday also showed Jacksonville businesses have added 17,900 workers to their payrolls over the past year, a 3 percent growth rate. That's better than the statewide job growth rate of 1.9 percent.

Jacksonville's job growth has been widespread across most industry sectors, with even construction jobs growing by 2.3 percent over the past year.

The only major industry not growing is the information sector, where jobs have declined by 3.2 percent.

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