rick_scott_12.jpgTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida's unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in four years at 8.1 percent in November and the state was a national leader in job creation, continuing a trend that began two years ago.

The 0.4 percentage point decline from October's 8.5 percent jobless rate announced Friday was an early Christmas present for Gov. Rick Scott, who took office at that time.

“For many of Florida's families during this holiday season there could be no greater gift than a regular paycheck,'' Scott said in a statement. “More people are moving here, more businesses are expanding, our home prices are recovering and more people are pursing the careers of their dreams.''

The Republican governor has made job creation the hallmark of his administration, but Florida's gains so far haven't helped him much politically. Polls show the Scott's job approval rating still lagging below the 40 percent mark.

Florida added 24,500 jobs from October to November. That was the second-most nationally behind North Carolina, which added 30,600 jobs, and just ahead of Texas with 22,100.

Since November 2011, Florida added 83,000 jobs. The biggest over-the-year job growth has been in leisure and hospitality, up 3.4 percent; professional and business services, up 2.6 percent; retail trade, up 2.1 percent, and health care and social assistance, up 1.8 percent. Construction, though, was down 1.4 percent. Government employment also declined by 0.7 percent. Manufacturing was up but only by 0.5 percent.

“We're now over 200,000 private sector jobs created in the two years since I took office with the largest drop in unemployment in the country,'' Scott said.

Scott had promised to add 700,000 jobs in seven years as part of his 2010 campaign platform. His goal, though, was below the million jobs that state economists that year had estimated Florida would add over the same span without any policy changes as the nation's economy recovered from the Great Recession.

Florida's November jobless rate was the lowest since the same month in 2008, when it was 7.8 percent. It also was a full 2 percentage points lower than November 2011. That's the third largest drop nationally after Nevada and Mississippi.

It still, though, left 760,000 Floridians out of work and the state's jobless rate again topped the national figure, which was 7.7 percent for November. Florida's November rate was the 16th highest among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

The improving employment figures are one of several recent indications that the state's economy is rebounding.

Florida's housing starts were up in November by 60.2 percent compared to the same month last year while median home prices increased 11.2 percent over that span.

The state's consumer confidence index is near a five-year high and Florida had a trade surplus of more than $24 billion _ $86.8 billion in exports compared to $62.4 billion in imports, in 2011.