Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn eschewed his political views and focused on Tampa’s improving economy during his welcome address at the Republican National Convention.
"We are leading Florida out of the recession," he said during his brief remarks. "Unemployment is declining faster here than almost anywhere else."
While there are several ways to take the economy’s temperature, Buckhorn is echoing a tactic by Gov. Rick Scott to tout the unemployment rate as a sign of success. Buckhorn later told us he used the unemployment rate as a yardstick because "it shows we are emerging out of this recession. I think it’s progress."
We wanted to know if unemployment is declining faster in Tampa than anywhere else in the nation.
Buckhorn’s evidence was a short article in the Tampa Bay Times that said that "Tampa Bay tied for the second-largest drop in unemployment over the past year among major metro areas."
We turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the government agency that tracks employment data, for more details. We first looked at the latest data Buckhorn had available to him when he spoke on Tuesday.
The agency, it turns out, doesn’t measure unemployment in "Tampa" as Buckhorn described but rather the metro area of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The unemployment rate in the Tampa metro area dropped 2.2 percentage points from June 2011 through June 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That tied for thesecond-largest decline among 49 metro areas with a population of at least 1 million people.
(New data released Wednesday changed the 12-month decline in unemployment from 11.3 percent to 9.4 percent for the year ending in July. At a difference of 1.9 percentage points, it is the highest of all major metro areas.)
Even though construction jobs continued to languish, the area posted notable over-the-year gains in leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services, according to the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.
So the statistic is largely accurate, though Buckhorn shorthanded the Tampa/St. Petersburg metro area as Tampa and used a figure that only compares major metropolitan areas.
There’s another thing to note.
The unemployment rate in the Tampa area remains higher than the national and state averages. Also, the unemployment rate does not account for Florida’s contracted labor force, which is smaller now because people have given up on finding work. The Florida Legislature’s economic research agency found that nearly 70 percent of the drop in Florida’s unemployment rate can be attributed to a shrinking workforce, not new jobs. The unemployment rate would be much higher had the workforce held steady, stated the August 2012 report.
"I would say nationally and statewide we want the unemployment rate to come down, but not because the labor force is shrinking," said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist.
Economists say an increased unemployment rate actually could be a better economic indicator because it may signal that discouraged workers are coming back to the labor force.
Still, Snaith said, "there's some real growth in (the Tampa area), granted we know it's not been everything that it should be or could be."
Buckhorn said that the unemployment rate is declining faster in Tampa "than almost anywhere else."
We have a few quibbles with that. Buckhorn could have more clear that he was referring to a part of the Tampa Bay area and that the statistic only measures metropolitan areas.
Also, the real story behind a declining rate isn’t always so cheery. It doesn’t account for discouraged workers, which are the biggest drivers behind Florida’s falling rate.
On the flip side, he gives himself some cover with use of the word "almost," and the metro area has seen a significant dip in the unemployment rate.
On balance, we rate this claim Mostly True.
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