TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent in March, dipping below the national rate and reaching its lowest level in more than four years, the state's labor agency announced Friday.
The leisure and hospitality sector was the pacesetter as the Sunshine State gained more than 140,000 jobs from a year ago, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.
It's the lowest jobless rate in Florida since October 2008, when unemployment stood at 7.4 percent in the state.
The 7.5 percent statewide jobless rate last month was down from a revised 7.8 percent rate in February and from an 8.9 percent rate in March 2012, the labor agency said.
Florida's jobless rate last month beat the national rate of 7.6 percent in March.
"It is great news that our unemployment rate is below the national average," said Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has made job growth a centerpiece of his administration.
The Republican governor said the latest unemployment numbers are further proof of an economic turnaround in Florida.
Scott, who was in Naples on Friday to talk about the state's employment picture, said the state has added more than 320,000 private-sector jobs since he took office in January 2011. That figure is closing in on the halfway point of his promise to create 700,000 new jobs in Florida over a seven-year period.
Scott, with an eye toward his re-election campaign next year, has spent much of his time in recent weeks reminding Floridians that things have gotten better since he took office. He has been pushing state lawmakers in recent weeks to pass a blanket exemption for Florida manufacturers from paying the 6 percent sales tax on equipment purchases.
In its report Friday, the state's labor agency said there were 706,000 jobless Floridians in March.
The agency said that 141,300 jobs have been added in Florida over the past year, an increase of 1.9 percent. The leisure and hospitality sector led the way with 45,300 jobs added. Other industries gaining jobs included trade, transportation and utilities -- adding a total of 42,300 jobs. Professional and business services gained 25,100 jobs. The construction sector added 8,500 jobs.
Industries losing jobs over the past year included government and manufacturing.
Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys, again had the state's lowest unemployment rate at 3.8 percent in March, followed by Walton County at 4.3 percent and Okaloosa County at 4.8 percent.
Hendry County in southwest Florida had the state's highest jobless rate at 10 percent. Flagler County was next at 9.5 percent and Putnam County at 9.4 percent.
Nineteen of the state's 22 metropolitan areas have had job gains over the past year, led by the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area and Jacksonville, the labor agency said.