POLK COUNTY – Polk County’s unemployment rate fell more than half a point in July, even though the area lags behind the state and nation.
Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Forecasting at the University of Central Florida, said the latest figures from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show that the state and local economies are on the mend after more than a year of turmoil .
“The economy continues to recover fairly robustly from the effects of COVID-19 as well as the public health closures that have really done the most damage to the economy,” Snaith said. “In Florida, we have certainly eased these restrictions much faster and more aggressively than in some other cases. Our economy has benefited from this.
“We are continuing on our way back to where we were before the pandemic,” he added.
The DEO reported Friday that Polk County’s unemployment rate was 6% for July, up from 6.6% the county reported in June. That’s less than half the unemployment rate Polk County’s July 2020 rate – 13.4% – when the economy struggled with the first wave of COVID-19 and widespread closures.
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Polk County has the 10th highest unemployment rate in the state. Hendry County leads with an unemployment rate of 7.6%. Monroe County had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.1%.
Polk numbers are still slightly above those of Florida and the United States
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Florida was 5.1% in July, just above the 5% reported in June. The country, meanwhile, had an unemployment rate of 5.4%, down from 5.9% in June.
Additionally, the Florida workforce grew by 83,000 people, or 0.8%, last month. Polk County’s workforce has shrunk slightly, but Snaith said the difference of about 300 people is within a statistical margin of error. He added that it is important to watch the labor force grow as people who are leaving the labor force will lower the unemployment rate for the wrong reasons. Polk County and Florida faced labor shortages as more businesses reached full capacity and tourism picked up in recent months.
Most sectors in Florida are doing well. Key industries that have struggled have added jobs over the past year, including the leisure and hospitality industries, professional and business services, construction, and manufacturing. In fact, the only major non-agricultural industry losing jobs in Florida year-over-year was the government, which was down 2.1%.
The leisure and hospitality industry, one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, has seen employment growth of 14.6% since July 2020 alone.
Snaith said while domestic vacation travel has “broadly rebounded,” convention-related business travel, as well as international travel, are still declining. He expects these numbers to rise again in early 2022.
“It comes down to getting travel back to where it was before the pandemic,” Snaith said.
But what about the ongoing effects of the pandemic?
Florida is again seeing spike in COVID-19 cases and Polk County is overwhelmed with hospitals and emergency services. However, Snaith doesn’t think these factors will have a huge impact on the future economy, as they did after the coronavirus outbreak in the states last year.
“People were out and about before vaccines became widespread. I think a lot of people have made up their minds what to do about COVID-19, ”Snaith said. “I don’t think this recent climb will bring us back to where we were last year. Not even close.”
Maya Lora can be reached with tips or questions at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @mayaklora.