TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Florida’s jobless rate dropped to 4.6 percent in October, with a state economist saying the dip represents “continued positive growth” of people back in the labor force during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The October rate was down from 4.8 percent in September and represented an estimated 491,000 Floridians being out of work in mid-October from a labor force that grew by 29,000 to 10.59 million, according to a report released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The number of unemployed people was down from 506,000 in mid-September and 583,000 in October 2020 as the state was completing its reopening from the initial hit of the pandemic.

The report also indicated that Florida has regained 86.6 percent of the 1.27 million jobs lost between February and April 2020, a period when businesses had to shut down or dramatically scale back because of the pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said the progress stems from “successful policies that put Floridians and businesses first.”

“Florida’s economy continues to grow faster than the nation because we put the needs of Floridians and businesses first and make smart policy decisions that push back against heavy-handed mandates,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

Adrienne Johnston, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s chief economist, pointed to “continued positive growth.” Florida’s unemployment rate matched the national rate of 4.6 percent in October.

“We try not to make too many predictions based on what we see at the national level because the estimates are done for Florida, independent of that,” Johnston told reporters in a conference call Friday. “I think we’re confident that this is a good report. We’re still seeing job gains consistently, and seeing that coupled with the labor force increasing at the same time. That’s really key. We’re seeing the labor force growing, we’re seeing the unemployment rate declining, and we’re adding jobs to payrolls at the same time. So, all of that combined is a really strong labor market indicator.”

Since mid-May, the state has pushed to get Floridians back into the labor force, including by withdrawing early from two federal assistance programs and reinstating a “work search” requirement for people seeking unemployment benefits.

In that time, Florida has seen an average of 7,696 new unemployment claims a week.

The weekly average across the pre-pandemic years of 2018 and 2019 was 6,535.

The largest numbers of returning jobs have been in the fields hit hardest by the pandemic, leisure, and hospitality, with an increase of 135,100 over the past year.

State officials have bemoaned struggles by service-related businesses in refilling positions and repeatedly pointed to around a half-million online postings across the state.

But at least some workers in Florida and across the nation appear to have used the pandemic to seek better jobs.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported 4.4 million Americans left jobs in September, simply quitting or finding new employment.

The state and national unemployment rates have declined after a summer surge of COVID-19 cases linked to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that an estimated 268,000 first-time jobless claims were filed nationally during the week that ended Nov. 13, marking the seventh straight week of declines in applications.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday pointed to such indicators and touted President Joe Biden’s handling of the economy.

“This is further evidence that the president’s success in getting Americans vaccinated, getting economic support to the middle class, means that our recovery has positioned us better than any of our peers for continued strong economic recovery,” Psaki said.

Across Florida, the lowest unemployment in October was in Monroe County, at 2.5 percent, followed by St. Johns County at 2.9 percent and Wakulla County at 3.1 percent.

At the other end of the spectrum, Hendry County had the highest rate at 6.3 percent.

Other largely rural counties had some of the highest rates, with Putnam County at 5.9 percent and Highlands and Hamilton counties at 5.4 percent.

Regionally, the lowest unemployment rates were found in the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin metropolitan statistical area at 3.2 percent, followed by 3.4 percent in the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area and 3.5 percent in the Gainesville area.

The tourism-dependent Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford area was at 4.4 percent, while the Miami-Fort-Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area dropped to 4.0 percent for October.

The Pensacola area and the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area was at 3.8 percent, the Jacksonville area was at 3.7 percent, and the Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach area was at 4.3 percent.

The Sebring metropolitan statistical area had the highest rate at 5.4 percent.

The Villages and Homosassa Springs areas were at 5.2 percent. The county and metropolitan rates are not seasonally adjusted, while the statewide rate is adjusted.

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

CBSMiami.com Team