SEBRING — Unemployment rates in Florida have hit a 12-year low, with just 3.7 percent of the state being unemployed, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, or DEO.

DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor said, “We have a really strong economy right now. If somebody wants to find a job, they are able to find a job.

“We see also that people are leaving one job to find a better job,” Proctor said. “They are able to make those decisions right now, because there are so many jobs out there.”

However, Highlands County’s unemployment rate for August 2018 was 5.4 percent, almost 46 percent percent higher than the state average.

Currently, Highlands County’s unemployment rate is tied with Citrus County as the fourth highest in the state, according to Florida DEO. Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate with 8.3 percent, followed by Hardee County at 6.2 and Sumter at 5.5 percent.

President and CEO of CareerSource Heartland Donna Doubleday said, “We’re seasonal or cyclical in our economy. Typically, we see higher unemployment in the summer and lower unemployment in the fall and spring.”

The fluctuation in unemployment coincides with the time when people from the northern states visit the area, Doubleday said. When northern visitors arrive, unemployment tends to go down. In addition, school employment and agriculture also follow this pattern, experiencing more unemployment during the summer, she said.

Some school employees are 10-month employees, Doubleday said. In addition, few crops are being harvested in the summer compared to the fall and spring.

Although the unemployment for Highlands County appears high compared to the rest of the state, the numbers may go down slightly in the fall.

Despite the higher unemployment during the summer, the unemployment rate for Highlands County is down from six percent in August 2017 to 5.4 percent in August 2018, the latest month that data is available from the Florida DEO.

“Businesses appear to be more confident,” Doubleday said. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of job postings, and we’ve seen businesses adding positions. In addition, some places are increasing wages. Those things are exciting for our area.”

The average annual wage in Highlands County increased from $32,845 in 2016 to $33,819 in 2018, according to the Florida DEO. However, this is significantly lower than the Florida average of $48,460 in 2017 and lower than the wages of surrounding counties. For example, Okeechobee’s annual wage for 2017 was $39,506 and even Hardee County had a higher wage of $34, 226.

Help is available for those who are still unemployed or who need a better paycheck. “Come to CareerSource Heartland,” Doubleday said. “We have a database of local jobs available as well as industry-specific job postings.

“We also help people with interviews, resumes and identifying transferable skills that may transfer to open jobs. Sometimes people have worked in the same job for over a decade, and they may not realize that the skills they have will transfer to other jobs.”

At CareerSource Heartland, staff have been trained to ask job seekers, “What did you do at your job?” When they hear about the actual duties a person performed at a job, they ask, “Don’t you think your skills would qualify you for a job over here?”

People don’t always realize that they may be qualified to perform a different type of job than they have performed in the past. CareerSource Heartland shows people how to present themselves to new employers and show them that they have the skills needed to excel at the job.

When looking for jobs, people are often facing financial challenges. However, people can search for jobs at no charge at CareerSource Heartland. “Your tax dollars pay for it,” Doubleday said.

“It’s available to everyone, even if you have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.” The center offers services for people with no experience and for people with decades spent in the workforce.

We’d love to see people come in and get connected with jobs, Doubleday said. Job seekers can visit CareerSource Heartland at 5901 U.S. 27 in Sebring.

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