Lee & Collier Jobless Rates Fall Below State and Nation

Unemployment rates for Lee and Collier counties are below the state and national rates, according to the latest figures released Monday. Lee County’s rate in January was 4.7 percent, up from 4.3 percent in December, but down from 5.5 percent a year ago. Collier County’s rate was 4.8 percent in January, up from 4.5 percent in December, but down from 5.3 percent a year ago. Charlotte County’s rate was 5.6 percent in January, up from 5.1 percent in December, but down from 6.5 percent a year ago. Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.0 percent in January, down 0.1 percentage point from the revised December rate of 5.1 percent and down 0.7 percentage point from a year ago. The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in January. Every March, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and theFlorida Department of Economic Opportunity release January employment and unemployment estimates as well as revised historical data. This report is a result of that annual process, known as benchmarking. Jim Wall, spokesman for jobs-connector CareerSource Southwest Florida, said he thinks discouraged workers who stopped looking for work for a time may have re-entered the employment market going into peak season. “The reason we may see a little uptick is because individuals are now wanting to get back into the workforce who previously were not counted in these statistics,” he said. “Now we’re seeing individuals re-engage into the workforce, which I think explains the slight uptick in numbers.” Peg Elmore, director of business services for CareerSource Southwest Florida, said on-the-job training is becoming more common, with employers more willing to hire for aptitude and attitude and teach people the skills they require.

“As the available labor tightens up, businesses are struggling to find the perfect candidate, someone who has all the skill sets they need,” she said. “Businesses are saying, ‘We’ll train them’. A few years ago, employers could be very choosy, but now they can’t find the skill set they’re looking for.” Christopher Westley, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at FGCU, concurred with Wall’s observation on discouraged workers yet sees consistency in the broader trend. “It shows the progress of the recovery in this region,” he said. There are 254,100 people counted as employed in nonagricultural jobs in Lee County, a 4.3 percent increase from a year ago. That’s good for third fastest annual growth rate in the state when comparing metro areas. Lee County also had the third fastest rate among all Florida metro areas in professional and business services (up 7.6 percent) and trade, transportation and utilities (up 4.4 percent). There are 138,800 people employed in nonagricultural jobs in Collier County, a 2.0 percent increase from a year ago. Collier County had the third-fastest annual job growth rate in the state in manufacturing (up 6.1 percent).

Charlotte County had the second fastest over-the-year job growth rate in other services employment (up 5.3 percent). Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate in the state in January at 8.4 percent. Glades County, the other locality considered part of the five-county Southwest Florida region, posted a 6.4 percent rate. In all, the region tallied a 4.9 percent rate. Florida added 7,900 construction jobs between December and January — most in the nation, according to analysis of Labor Department data released Monday in a separate report by the Associated General Contractors of America.