MANATEE -- The U.S. unemployment rate remains unchanged at 5.0 percent, but Florida and Manatee County rates continue to fall, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Manatee County and Sarasota County December non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates were well below the nation's, at 4.4 percent and 4.3 percent respectively.
Monroe County had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.2 percent, while Hendry County had the highest at 7.3 percent.
Manatee County's rate dropped year-over-year from 4.9 percent. The labor force, comprised of the employed and unemployed, shrunk by about 1,200 people, according to DOE statistics. Sarasota County's labor force decreased by about 1,550 people as well. The county data are not seasonally adjusted.
Those not working and not looking for a job are not included in the labor force number. Many of them attend school, are retired or attend to family matters instead of working, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Anthony Gagliano, business services director for employment agency CareerSource Suncoast, said December 2015 was noticeably more active than the previous year.
"We saw a 25 percent increase through us in the number of job openings year over year," Gagliano said. "And employers know the unemployment pool is shrinking; we saw a 14 percent decrease in terms of the number of new job seekers registering with us. Overall, we dropped a couple thousand in our pool of unemployed." He expects 2016 to continue to be a strong year for the area's construction industry.
"Some of the fastest growing occupations are masons, drywall and roofers," Gagliano said.
Florida's seasonally adjusted rate fell from 5.1 percent in November 2015 to 5.0 percent in December to match the national rate. About 71,000 Floridians went to work in December 2015 compared to last year.
The largest percentage of unemployed Americans recorded in December were jobless for 5 to 14 weeks, according to the BLS. The long-term unemployed, or those who were jobless for 27 weeks or longer, made up 26.3 percent of the unemployed population.
The BLS cited several industries, including professional and business services, construction, health care, and food services experiencing job growth. Mining employment continues to decline nationwide.
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter@jayohday.