Could problems with state's new unemployment system skew unemployment rate?

CREATED Dec. 10, 2013

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Governor Rick Scott has prided himself on Florida's declining unemployment rate, but could that rate be skewed by problems with the state's new $63 million unemployment website?

The answer depends on how many people can't get their unemployment checks and, as a result, give up job searching because they can't afford to get to and from interviews. 

Florida's unemployment rate is calculated by the number of people actively searching for jobs but can't find one.  
 
Every month, government officials send out a survey to a sample number of households and determine whether individuals are employed, unemployed or not in the labor force, according to Sammie Young, economics professor at Edison State College.  
 
Young said the unemployment website and the number of people applying for benefits is not part of the unemployment rate calculation. 

However, many claimants awaiting their checks have told Fox 4 they can no longer afford to put gas in their car to get to interviews.
 
If these individuals stop actively searching for jobs, they will be considered "discouraged workers" and will not be considered part of the state's labor force.  
 
As a result, with a shrinking labor force, the unemployment rate would decline. 

"You have to read the fine print," said Florida Gulf Coast University professor Dr. Peter Bergerson. "It's not necessarily the whole picture."

Fox 4 continues to push for answers from Florida Department of Economic Opportunity about how many people have been affected by problems with the new website, and how many people can't claim benefits.