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Lee County posts record unemployment rate for May

By Staff | Jun 20, 2009

It looked like things might be turning around. Instead, they have gotten even worse.
Following a brief respite in April, Lee County posted record unemployment numbers for the month of May.
At 12.4 percent, the unemployment level is up from a revised number of 12 percent in April, and way up from the 7.3 percentage rate in May 2008.
Things are bad all over Florida, as the state posted a 10.2 percent unemployment rate for May, up from 9.7 in April and 4.4 this same time last year.
Barbara Hartman at the Career Center in Fort Myers said Lee County’s percentage increase is due in part to the end of seasonal employment.
Unemployment has historically risen at the end of the tourist season in the county. Unfortunately, when tourists do return, it probably won’t be enough to have a major impact on the percentages.
“I think part of the record number now is besides (the fact) the economy is in a downturn, it’s also the summer months where our seasonal employment is over,” she said. “In a normal economy, it would be expected to recover in the fall when the tourists come back.”
Lee County has also been hit with two notable business layoffs in June, so the chances of the June numbers, due the third week of July, improving are slim.
Hartman said the Sears Grand store in North Fort Myers recently laid off 50 people due to the store closing. And the area agency for persons with disabilities laid off 24 employees.
“We consider a mass layoff to be 50 people or more … it has to be a certain percentage of the employees,” Hartman added.
The Career Center is currently using federal stimulus dollars to train people for in-demand professions. A major construction project — the Metro Parkway Extension — could have a dramatic effect on the county’s percentages, but it’s only now in the bidding phase.
Hartman said a highly desirable work force will be available once the economy does turn around, but until then people can only wait and prepare.
“We have so many qualified job seekers in the job market … any company that’s going to do hiring, they will have good candidates to choose from,” she said.
While 12.4 percent is a record for Lee County, it could be even worse if the numbers are revised.
Compiled through a survey, the unemployment percentage could increase if the data is examined further. Of course, the number could also decrease.
“It could go either way, but it could very well be revised upward,” Hartman said.