Florida unemployment drops to lowest mark since 2008

TALLAHASSEE - Florida labor officials say the state's unemployment dropped to its lowest mark in nearly four years in October with 8.5 percent of the workforce still hunting for jobs.

Although the figure is an improvement from September's 8.7 percent unemployment in Florida, it remains six-tenths of a percentage point higher than the national average of 7.9 percent. It is Florida's first unemployment figures since President Barack Obama was re-elected last week.

Unemployment and job creation were a major part of the debate between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, who has promised to create 12 million new jobs if elected.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been quick to boast of improvements in the state's unemployment numbers to the chagrin of Republicans anxious to blame Obama for high unemployment.

Meanwhile, state economists are making only relatively small changes in Florida's improving forecast, but the federal government's so-called fiscal cliff could change that.

Legislative and executive branch economists met Friday to update the economic estimate. It will form the basis of a state revenue estimate they'll make on Dec. 13, which Gov. Rick Scott will use for his budget recommendations to the Legislature next year.

The economists are still estimating a slow, steady improvement through 2022. Job growth of about 1 percent and total employment of 8 million are expected in 2013. Employment is forecast to reach about 8.5 million in 10 years.

How and if Congress reaches an agreement to stave off the fiscal cliff -- tax increases and sharp spending cuts --could dramatically change the state forecast.

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