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Lee County has 4.1 percent unemployment rate

By MEGHAN BRADBURY / news@breezenewspapers.com - | Apr 6, 2021

The latest labor market trends, February shows Lee County as “full employment” with its 4.1 percent unemployment rate, which is a significant decrease from 14.2 percent unemployment at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Anything between 4 to 5 percent is full employment, most of the individuals that want to work are working. It looks good, but there are some unknown factors to this number,” CareerSource Southwest Florida Communications Manager Janeth Castrejon said.

In January 2020, before the pandemic hit, the unemployment rate for Lee County was 3.6 percent.

In addition to Lee having “full employment,” Collier County sits at 3.4 percent unemployment rate, Charlotte County at 4.1 percent, Glades County at 3.1 and Hendry County at 4.5 percent. The unemployment rate for Florida is 5 percent.

“Usually Glades is the second highest alongside Hendry County. Glades job seekers are not actively looking for jobs they had, or looking to have. They (jobs) are not paying as much as the unemployment extended benefits and stimulus package,” Castrejon said.

The unemployment benefits and stimulus factors are among the unknowns that influenced individuals to either give up or not actively seek employment. She said that could happen for a variety of reasons, such as the job they had might be less in salary payments than what they are receiving with unemployment benefits and the latest stimulus package.

“They still struggle. Families struggle with health related concerns, verse financial stability. We see a lot of the mothers who may have children below 18 have childcare issues, concerns about being exposed to the virus and given to the family. They stay behind and take care of the house, home and children,” Castrejon said.“They are not actively seeking employment.”

The traffic at the career centers of CareerSource Southwest Florida has seen spotty traffic, at best, as clients are not actively seeking employment.

She said both have had an impact on the job market, as the stimulus package has provided some needed relief to pay for such things as mortgage or groceries, providing respite and a break.

She said the hope is in a month or two, those individuals will be ready to find a job again, as there are many employers looking to fill positions in various industries.

“There is a great need to fill these positions,” Castrejon said.

To help fulfill that need, CareerSource Southwest Florida is holding a virtual hiring event on April 15 with more than 50 employers already signed up for the event. For more information and to register, visit www.careersouresouthwestflorida.com.

“There is such an array of opportunities out there. We can’t seem to find individuals to want, or need to have that work right away,” Castrejon said.

With the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed into law on March 11, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistant benefit programs have been extended to Sept. 6. In addition, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides additional $300 for eligible individuals, has been extended to the same date.

Gov. Ron DeSantis directed the Department of Economic Opportunity to continue waiving the waiting week requirements, work search and work recognition requirements through April 24.

Castrejon said eventually the unemployment benefits will stop, which is why the virtual hiring event is great for those in need of a job.

“There are a lot of job opportunities that Southwest Florida has to offer,” she said.

As far as the unemployment rate, Castrejon said Lee has been doing very well, with the highest gains in construction with more than 900 jobs and professional and business services with more than 700 jobs. She said it is very evident all over Southwest Florida as construction is being done for communities, apartments and rentals.

“They can’t build them fast enough. Construction is very strong against the entire state,” Castrejon said, adding that people are moving to Southwest Florida from New Jersey, New York, California and Ohio and buying homes. “They are doing remote work for those states. They want a laid back style of living. That growth of visitors decided to stay and live in Southwest Florida. It has a tremendous impact on why construction stayed strong all this month.”

Unfortunately, the leisure and hospitality industry is still being impacted with the loss of 14,400 jobs. She believes it will take at least a year and a half to two years for the industry to get somewhat caught up.

“It’s the most impacted industry because of the immediate handling of the customer face-to-face,” Castrejon said. “We will continue to see that trend until people are vaccinated.”

With the COVID-19 vaccination becoming more available to younger groups, she said the level of comfort and confidence of buyers will be kept at bay, therefore allowing the industry to be affective again.

“We are not even close to getting there yet,” she said. “We will continue to see job losses in that field.”