TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's economic recovery floundered in May, handing Gov. Rick Scott a political setback in his bid to win a second term.
The state's unemployment rate rose slightly in May to 6.3 percent and the state lost nearly 18,000 jobs, according to numbers released Friday.
Florida lost more jobs than any other state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The collapse may be temporary, but it was unflattering news for the Republican incumbent, who has used job-creation numbers as a centerpiece of his re-election effort.
Scott on Friday put out a statement that downplayed the latest news and instead focused on long-term trends that show the state has steadily recovered since the Great Recession.
"Long-term trends demonstrate that Florida's poised for success," Scott said. "Florida's had an amazing turnaround, and we have to continue working everyday to create jobs for families."
Scott campaigned on a pledge to add 700,000 jobs above normal growth. He has continually suggested that his policies have aided the state's gradual recovery, a position that prompted his opponents to seize on the disappointing numbers Friday.
"This jobs report shows we haven't built an economy to last for Florida's middle class," said Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for Democratic rival Charlie Crist.
But economists weren't surprised by what happened.
A big factor in the state's unemployment rate decline the past three years had been the number of people either retiring or leaving the workforce. The signs of the recovery likely prompted people to start searching for work again.
Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist, said a large number of the jobs that the state shed in May were in the leisure and hospitality industry. He said it is likely that many of the jobs were added this past winter when Florida's tourism industry saw jumps amid a brutal winter season in other parts of the country.
Snaith, however, said as the recovery progresses it will make the "arithmetic more difficult" and it is likely the unemployment rate will stay flat or even spike up in the months ahead.
"Every brief decline is going to have to be fought tooth and nail," Snaith said.
There were an estimated 606,000 unemployed Floridians in May out of a total labor force of 9.6 million in the state. Walton County, in Florida's Panhandle and home to some of its most well-known Gulf of Mexico beaches, had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.4 percent. Hendry County, a rural county located near Lake Okeechobee, had the highest rate at 9.7 percent.
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