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Updated: 04/26/2012 08:01:09AM

Polk’s unemployment rate drops a half-percent

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Florida’s economic recovery appears to be continuing as the state’s unemployment rate declined last month to 9 percent and it went down a half-percent in Polk County.

The dramatic drop of 0.4 percent from February was the largest month-to-month decline in nearly 20 years, state officials noted on Friday.

The state’s unemployment rate is now the lowest it has been since January 2009 but it still remains higher than the national average of 8.2 percent.

An estimated 836,000 Floridians are still out of work.

In Polk the rate dropped from 11.3 percent in the last year and in the last month gained 200 jobs, according to the Florida Department of Economic Recovery.

The news of continued employment growth provides a boost for Gov. Rick Scott, who has made jobs a central focus of his administration.

Scott was elected on a promise of creating 700,000 jobs over a seven-year period. He has asserted that his push to cut taxes and lure businesses to the state has been paying off.

The latest figures now show that there has been a net increase of 88,300 jobs since Scott was sworn into office.

But the continued recovery could also help President Barack Obama’s attempt to win the crucial swing state in the upcoming fall elections. GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney has faulted Obama for the state’s economic woes.

If the jobless rate continues to fall this year, then it would be lower than what it was when Obama first took office.

Flagler County in northeast Florida has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 12.2 percent, while Monroe County at the southern end of the state had the lowest rate at 5.1 percent. There were 10 counties with double-digit unemployment rates, down from 18 in the month of February.

The jobless numbers and the job growth figures are calculated by using two different surveys.

Florida’s unemployment rate that is announced each month is based on a survey of roughly 2,500 households. A different survey that goes out to thousands of employers is what is used to come up with numbers of how many jobs have been added.

But the numbers can be revised and sometimes the changes can be quite different from what is initially reported.

In December, the Scott administration trumpeted numbers that showed that the unemployment rate had dropped 2.1 percentage points during his first year in office.

New numbers recalculated by federal officials in March showed that Florida’s unemployment rate was actually 11.1 percent in December 2010 and not 12 percent as previously reported.

That meant that the overall drop during Scott’s first year in office was roughly half of what everyone thought it was.

Some of the industries that have been gaining jobs in the last year include those at restaurants and bars as well as jobs in health care services and employment agencies.

The two biggest areas of job loss have been in construction and state government. In his first two years as governor, Scott has pushed to trim back the size of state government. The state budget Scott signed earlier this week seeks to eliminate 4,000 positions.