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Florida's unemployment rate at 6.3 percent, up slightly from February

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida's unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 6.3 percent in March, with the ranks of the unemployed increasing by 17,000 to 606,000.

The numbers represent a slight setback in the forward moves of the state's rate, a slight increase over February's rate of 6.2 percent. However, Florida led the nation with the addition of 22,900 jobs in March.

Unemployment in some of the state's larger counties was static, as rates in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Palm Beach and Duval counties remained unchanged.

Miami-Dade's unemployment rate increased from 6.7 percent to 6.9 percent, while the rate in Broward dropped from 5.3 percent to 5.2 percent.

Unemployment fell in 21 states last month while Florida was one of 17 states to see an increase. But the increase in jobs in conjunction with the labor force increase to 59,000 offsets any down side in the unemployment rate, said Chris McCarty, director of the Survey Research Center at the University of Florida.

"The unemployment going up can actually be a good sign following a recession," McCarty said. "While we're way past the recession, the biggest problem with Florida employment has been the decline in the labor force. This increase, along with the number of jobs, could be a sign that people are encouraged that there are more jobs and people are coming back into the force."

Job creation has been a main theme of Gov. Rick Scott's administration, and he has repeatedly cited the state's recovery in his re-election campaign against former Gov. Charlie Crist.

In a Facebook forum on Thursday, Scott was asked about his goal of creating jobs,

"The four years before I was elected the state lost 832,000 jobs," Scott wrote. "Since December 2010 the private sector has added over 540,000 jobs. We're more than half way there ... let's keep working."

He also said there are "over 270,000 job openings around the state" in response to a questioner who was trying to help his 19-year-old son find work.

In a statement Friday, Scott said, "Our improving economy is evidence that our policies are working and we will continue to work until every Floridian that wants a job can get a job."

Democrat Charlie Crist, who is again seeking the office he previously held, criticized Scott's performance, however. While the unemployment rate is down from 7.7 percent a year ago, "the missing jobs from this are the ones that have been lost with Rick Scott's refusal to take transportation investments and to expand access to health care," said Crist spokesman Kevin Cate.

Scott in 2011 rejected funding for a proposed high-speed rail to connect Tampa and Orlando, calling the project too risky. Crist also has criticized Scott on Medicaid expansion, accusing him of failing to encourage the state Legislature to move forward on any plan.

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