June 22, 2012 -
Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research see the state's unemployment rate in different terms. Scott has glass half full look at recent lower unemployment numbers, state economists see it as half empty. Scott this week dismissed a poll showing his approval rating at 39 percent by referring to the drop in the jobless rate. "The number that I look at every month is our unemployment rate," he told reporters. "And as you know, we're bucking the national trend. We've come down 2.5 percent in the last 17 months. I think the federal number is down .8 or .9 of one percent." But the economic forecasters with the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research concluded that "75 percent of the drop in the unemployment rate is due to people dropping out of the labor force." Under that way of looking at it, the decline in unemployment is closer to .3 percent rather 2.5 percent, the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times reported this week. Although Florida's unemployment rate dropped from 9.9 percent in December 2011 to 8.7 percent in April 2012, state economists noted, "If the participation rate had held steady since 12/11, the unemployment rate would have been 9.6 percent." Another possible reason for the decline: that a state law passed last year makes it too difficult for people without work to get unemployment benefits. In a filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Employment Law Project and Florida Legal Services blasted changes to the application process for those benefits, including the requirement of a 45-question test. Lawmakers approved the changes in 2011 in what supporters promoted as an effort to make the unemployment system more solvent. Scott spokesman Lane Wright contended that those leaving the workforce may be choosing to do so. "How many of those people are mothers who decided they just want to stay at home and let their husbands provide for the family?" Wright asked, according to the Times and Herald. "They didn’t need to work?...How many of those are baby boomers that have retired?"