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Florida’s Monthly Jobs Numbers are Just Estimates

GARY FINEOUT, Associated Press
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott . ( Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott . ( Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Rick Scott — who has billed himself as Florida’s jobs governor — says repeatedly that he receives a new grade every month when Florida’s unemployment rates are released.

But maybe the grade Scott should get in his first year in office is an incomplete.

Since Scott was sworn in the state’s jobless rate has dropped from 12 percent in December 2010 to 9.9 percent in December 2011.

Yet those unemployment rates are based on a monthly survey that state and federal officials acknowledge is likely to change. And sometimes the revised numbers are much different than the ones that receive a lot of initial attention — sometimes by as much as a percentage point, which equals about 90,000 workers.

It’s not a secret that the numbers are refined as more information becomes available, including unemployment compensation records.

Economists say that the monthly unemployment reports are useful — especially when reviewed with other economic data.

“Do you want to take the patient’s blood pressure once a year or try to get a reading along the way?” asked Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist.

But the state’s stubbornly high unemployment rate and the drag of the recession have given the numbers much more political currency than they had when times were good.

Scott himself campaigned on a promise to bring 700,000 jobs over a seven-year period. He has loudly touted the drops in jobless numbers in the past year, saying they are proof that the state is heading in the right direction. He did it again on Friday when he personally held a conference call to announce that the state’s unemployment number had dropped below double digits for the first time in nearly three years.

“I hope we can keep announcing these jobs increases and unemployment decreases,” Scott said during the conference call.

Scott told The Associated Press that he knows that the numbers can be revised. But the governor said he was not worried if the numbers he’s been touting are eventually changed during the next round of annual changes that will take place in March.

“My hope is we continue to grow jobs,” Scott said. “All I can do is work every day at making sure people know that’s what my focus is.”

Florida’s unemployment rate that is announced each month is based on a survey of roughly 2,500 households, said Rebecca Rust, the chief economist for Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity. Rust said a different survey that goes out to thousands of employers is what is used to come up with numbers of how many jobs have been added.

And the monthly rate that is announced doesn’t include “discouraged workers” or those people who have stopped trying to find a job. Florida’s current 9.9 percent unemployment rate would actually be 10.8 percent if they were included, according to information provided by the Department of Economic Opportunity.

After the preliminary monthly numbers are announced they then are adjusted due a complicated process that includes looking at both past and future estimates as well as other data such as the state’s unemployment insurance claims.

Sometimes the number is altered only slightly, but sometimes the difference is much more significant.

Florida’s unemployment rate for March 2010, for example, was first reported as 12.3 percent. At the time that was the highest unemployment rate in the four decades the state had been keeping records.

But as part of an annual process the numbers were revised downward significantly in March 2011.

The reworked numbers showed that the state’s unemployment rate in March 2010 was actually 11.3 percent. That’s an 8 percent discrepancy from the original figure that was initially announced.

What’s more is that the revised figure showed that Florida’s unemployment rate held steady for the first four months of 2010 and didn’t start climbing back up until June of that year. At the time state officials and then-Gov. Charlie Crist were trumpeting preliminary data that showed the state’s jobless rate had dipped slightly during late spring when Crist was battling Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate.

Florida’s unemployment rate started to rise again in the fall of 2010 and hit 12 percent that December. This is now officially the highest unemployment rate ever recorded.

Snaith said that all macroeconomic data has some level of error in it. He said the fluctuations in the final unemployment rate is a reason why economists also look at other factors such as whether the overall labor force is growing and payroll data to determine the health of the economy.

“The labor market is complex, it’s not something whose essence can be captured in a single number,” Snaith said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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