unemployment-lines_fc_web.jpgTALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida's labor chief sees a glimmer of hope in some of the employment statistics she released Friday although October's jobless rate was unchanged from the prior month at 11.9 percent.

One bit of good news is the rate didn't go up again after increasing for three straight months, and it's still below the 12.3 percent peak hit in March.

Florida also added 6,900 jobs last month and 35,700 since the prior October, the strongest over-the-year growth since May 2007.

“We continue to see positive signs of stabilization and growth,'' said Cynthia Lorenzo, director of Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation.

The job growth figures, though, are both well under 1 percent and the state still has nearly 1.1 million unemployed workers in a labor force numbering 9.2 million.

Florida's rate also remains more than two percentage points higher than the 9.6 percent national rate.

That rate, also holding steady from September and August, was considered so dismal that it helped Republicans take control of the U.S. House and gain strength in the Senate, although it still has a Democratic majority, in the Nov. 2 election.

Florida voters, though, apparently didn't blame Republicans, who control both houses of the Legislature and hold most other statewide offices, for their state's economic woes. The GOP strengthened its hold on the statehouse, including a clean sweep of races for governor and all three Cabinet posts.

Lorenzo said another reason for optimism is that Florida posted the largest decrease nationally in first-time claims for unemployment benefits.

“Combined with increasing numbers of job postings online, this is encouraging news for our job seekers and our economy,'' she said.

Lorenzo also cited a University of Florida report showing a six-point gain in the state's consumer confidence from September to October. The new figure is 74 based on a 100-point index. Perceptions of whether it's a good time to buy a car or other big-ticket consumer item had the greatest increase of 10 points to 85.

Agency economist Rebecca Rust said anecdotal reports indicate holiday season hiring from October through December will be up this year, possibly hitting 40,000. During the recent recession seasonal hiring has been between 20,000 to 30,000, while in a normal economy it's usually 50,000 to 60,000. Typically some of those jobs become permanent, Rust said.

State economists, though, say Florida's long-term employment forecast remains bleak.

In an economic report issued on Election Day, the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research said simply rehiring laid off workers won't be enough to make up for 862,100 jobs lost since the state's employment peaked. That's because Florida's population is expected to grow by 1,200 people in the prime working ages of 25 to 54 every month, so it would take almost 909,000 new jobs to get back to the state's peak employment level.

By comparison, Republican Governor-elect Rick Scott ran on a “Let's get to work'' platform of creating 700,000 jobs in seven years _ more than 200,000 fewer than the peak-level target.

The state's poor employment prospects led to the announcement earlier this week of a sharp increase in 2011 in unemployment compensation taxes paid by Florida's employers.

The minimum tax is set to increase from $25.20 to $72.10 per employee annually, but the maximum will remain unchanged at $378. Rates are individually set based on employment history, so employers with more layoffs pay higher taxes up to the maximum.

Collections from maximum rate-payers, though, aren't enough to fully cover benefits, so other employers will pay more to make up part of the difference.

Even with the increase, tax receipts will be short of what's needed because the state's unemployment compensation pool ran dry last year and it has had to borrow from the federal government to make up the difference.

The Legislature in March reduced an even higher tax increase planned for 2010 after getting complaints from the business community. That increased the state's borrowing, which now totals $1.74 billion. To repay the loans, the tax rate will remain at a higher than normal level when unemployment gets back to normal.