Another record breaking month – for unemployment

As we consider how many people we can send to rebuild Haiti, how many civilian, paramilitary and military personnel we can send to rebuild countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, let’s not forget those in crisis right here in Florida.

The Agency for Workforce Innovation reported that Florida’s unemployment rate edged up to 11.8 percent in December, the highest the state has seen since Reubin Askew was governor. That percentage meant 1.1 million Floridians were out of work, about 232,000 more than a year earlier – and that’s not counting those who have stopped looking for work and others working shorter hours or taking part-time work.

Now, state economists claim jobless rates in Florida could climb even higher before things start getting better.

The three-year housing boom that peaked in 2006, has left Florida with 500,000 unsold homes on the market, a population drop and skittish lenders — a combination that is complicating recovery.

Economists also cautioned lawmakers that any recovery will be slow; with jobless figures forecast as topping 12 percent.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard sobering predictions that the Sunshine State economy won’t begin crawling back until 2011, with the state lagging behind a national recovery that federal officials say has already begun.

“Florida is on a different recovery path than the nation as a whole,” economist Amy Baker told the committee.

December’s unemployment figures were a far cry from the 3.3 percent jobless rate in July 2006, the peak of the last boom cycle. Since then, Florida has lost nearly 800,000 jobs.

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