A recent report found the axe has been coming down frequently in Florida. (Photo: SXC.)

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

At least we’re not California.

That’s what things have devolved to here in Florida. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and the undisputed title of “foreclosure capital of the United States,” it seems the only consolation for Floridians these days is knowing that someone else is struggling as much as we are.

On Sept. 22, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report on the number of mass layoffs that occurred this summer. And as with most things that have the words  “unemployment,” “foreclosure” or “layoffs” in the title, Florida is near the top. We’re No. 2 for August in the number of mass layoffs.

That bad news is compounded by the fact that it’s the second consecutive month Florida was runner-up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a mass layoff as one in which 50 or more workers are laid off or fired. And in June, we were third. Quite a summer.

That second-place August ranking behind perennial leader California is basically the same spot we were in a year ago. Actually, things are slightly better here and on the national level than they were a year ago. The 961 mass layoffs are 15 better than the 976 in August of last year.

But to keep that in perspective, check out this chart that tracks mass layoff events month by month. Since July 2009 — the month after the recession officially ended, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research — only four months have had fewer than 1,000 mass layoffs. And August 2010 and 2011 were two of the four. Yeah, it’s better, but it’s typically better in August.

So what’s dragging us down?

Initially, like everywhere else, it was a combination of fewer people moving here and the collapse of the financial and housing markets. Construction employment fell by 41 percent from 2007 to 2010.

But that was happening all over the country. But two years removed from the end of the recession, Florida — a state with great weather, no state income tax, pro-business regulations, and good educational institutions — is still among the nation’s leaders in mass layoffs.

A report titled “The State of Working Florida 2011,” released on Labor Day by Florida International University’s Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, might offer some clues.

Health care is still growing. And the numbers for the leisure and hospitality, as well as real estate, seem to be rebounding.

But after seeing job growth of 32,000 in May — the best increase since September 2005 –June saw growth of just 5,000 jobs. And then things slid precipitously again in July, when more than 22,000 jobs were lost.

Cuts by local governments alone, including public schools, accounted for almost half of those July job losses. It seems that removing public money from the economy at a time of recession just might have repercussions.

On top of that, half of Florida’s unemployed have been without work for more than six months and 20 percent of Florida’s workforce is underemployed.

But at least we’re not California.