Unemployment rate hits 13 percent in Lee County
There has been no reprieve for the unemployed in Lee County.
Lee County’s unemployment rate hit 13 percent for the month of June, up from a revised rate of 12.5 percent for May 2009.
Statewide, Florida has a an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent for June, up from 10.3 percent for May. The last time the state’s unemployment rate was higher than June 2009 was October 1975, when it was 11 percent.
“We haven’t seen the degradation yet on Sanibel and Captiva like the rest of the county has seen,” said Ric Base, president of the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce. “Tourism is the only thing that’s left in Lee County that’s relatively healthy.”
Lee’s current unemployment rate is a record, and could very well be even higher once the numbers are reexamined.
“If the numbers follow the same pattern they have followed it probably will be revised higher,” said Barbara Hartman, from the Career and Service Center in Fort Myers. “When the numbers come out for July, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
The national unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent, a figure Hartman said most Floridians – especially those in Lee County – would be happy with given the current circumstances.
With negative job growth, Hartman said most Lee employers are merely maintaining minimum staffing levels.
“The rest of the country seems alarmed at the high national rate, and I think we’ve adjusted to having double digit unemployment,” Hartman added. “We would be more than glad, I think, to have 9.5.”
Though there are no major hirings in Lee County on the horizon, Hartman thinks now is the time for people to take advantage of federal stimulus dollars aimed at re-educating people for “in demand fields,” to be ready once the job market does start to recover.
If eligible, people can take advantage of up $6,500 in federal money to help learn skills in medical, IT, and coding, while taking classes at High Tech North and Edison State College.
“Any time there’s a downturn, people turn to education to increase their skills. The stimulus funding is providing a great many opportunities,” Hartman added.
Whether July’s numbers will worsen remains to be seen, but the school district, along with the county government, will be dealing with budgetary woes that could lead to more layoffs.
“We seem to be hitting records consistently. Not that we want to, but that’s the number were hitting,” Hartman added.
According to a national job search Web site (www.SimplyHired.com), the unemployment rate on Sanibel is approximately 2.5 percent. However, since November 2007, jobs on the island have decreased more than 12 percent.
“Right now, I think we’re still in pretty good shape,” Base added. “I talked with the owner of a restaurant the other night and he said that although revenues are down 15 to 20 percent, he’s still keeping all of his staff. So we’re still handling our own.”