Local jobless rates rise slightly in November

Dusty Ricketts | Northwest Florida Daily News

Unemployment rates rose slightly in Okaloosa, Walton and Santa Rosa counties in November, but Florida posted its largest drop in more than 20 years.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity released its employment report Friday. The state’s unemployment rate dropped from 8.5 percent in October to 8.1 percent last month. It was the largest drop since October 1992.

“This is what happens in a slightly improving but tepid economy where you take two steps forward and one step back,” said local economist David Goetsch. “That’s how our economy is going to be through 2014, at least. So this is the kind of thing you’re going to see with the numbers, and I think nationwide we’re probably going to be stuck above 7 percent for the next two or three years.

“Locally, we’ve actually already had some layoffs in the military and the defense sector, and that has affected all three counties,” Goetsch said. “State-wide, though, construction and house sales are up and it’s gone up statewide like it should.”

Walton County’s unemployment rate increased from 5.4 percent in October to 5.5 percent last month, but still had the second lowest jobless rate in the state. Only Monroe County was lower, at 4.7 percent. Okaloosa County had the third lowest unemployment rate in November at 5.9 percent. That was up slightly from its October figure of 5.7 percent.

Santa Rosa County’s jobless rate of 7.1 percent also was a slight increase from 7 percent in October. Santa Rosa was tied with Nassau County for the 18th lowest unemployment rate in November.

“If the fiscal cliff happens, then all bets are off and everything’s going to go way up real fast,” Goetsch said. “But let’s say (Congress) figures out some type of reasonable solution to that and that doesn’t happen, then we’re going to have these small incremental ups and downs for a good while yet.”

Goetsch said defense contractors are struggling now, and he expects that to continue for the foreseeable future, even if the fiscal cliff crisis gets resolved.

He called the defense industry an industry of zero sum gains. If one contractor wins, another loses because the Defense Department is not adding a lot of new contracts, only issuing the ones that had previously been budgeted.

L-3 Crestview Aerospace recently received a large contract that will allow it to expand its operations.

Goetsch said although that is great for the local area, it is a job another contractor did not receive and is probably laying off staff because of it.

“I’m afraid that throughout the Obama administration there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty in the defense community,” Goetsch said. “His focus is social programs and not defense, and the money has to come from somewhere.”