Florida has 8.7 percent unemployment in September

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida's unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in September, a slight improvement from the previous two months and the final state job numbers available to voters before Election Day.

The seasonally adjusted rate is nearly a full percentage point higher than the national average of 7.8 percent in September. Florida unemployment was 8 .8 percent in July and August.

"These numbers tell us two things," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday. "We still have more work to do to grow our economy and we are heading in the right direction."

Jobs are the centerpiece of Scott's future political ambitions. He campaigned on a promise to create 700,000 new jobs.

The state unemployment numbers released by the Department of Economic Opportunity are sure to be political fodder for several campaigns.

Unemployment and job creation remain a major part of the debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who has promised to create 12 million new jobs if elected.

Just moments after the new job figures were out Friday, incoming Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, issued a statement blaming President Obama for the state's slow jobs recovery _ a message in part at odds with Scott, who has bragged for months about improving unemployment figures in the Sunshine state.

The differences popped up again this week in the lone U.S. Senate debate when U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack clashed over the state's economy. Nelson argued that a slow recovery was underway while Mack countered, "I'm not sure which Florida you're talking about."

Scott, when asked on Thursday, didn't say fellow Republican Mack was wrong, but emphasized "our state is headed in the right direction."

"I know the facts I'm talking about," said Scott, who doesn't face re-election for another two years.

The first-term Republican governor has been under some pressure from the national arm of the GOP to soften his optimism about improving job opportunities in the state so as to not benefit Obama in the Nov. 6 general election.

Much of Florida's employment picture remains unchanged, with Monroe County enjoying the fewest number of unemployed while Hendry County in southwest Florida and Flagler County along the eastern seaboard are the hardest hit. A dozen Florida counties reported double-digit unemployment in September, an improvement from 16 in August.

Monroe County reported 5 percent unemployment in September while Walton County and Okaloosa County in the western part of the Florida Panhandle were at 5.5 percent and 5.9 percent respectively. The counties with the lowest unemployment were those where there are a high number of government jobs.

Hendry County reported 14.2 percent unemployment and Flagler County was at 11.9 percent, in part due to a seasonal slowdown on the agricultural front.