five-pointjump

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The culprit appears to be unemployment, which reached nearly 12%statewide in January even as the rest of the US fell slightly below10%. Now Florida, which has always been to outshining the rest ofthe nation, is starting to feel like it's on the down side.

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"This month, Floridians may be coming to terms with thepossibility that Florida's economy will not recover at the samepace as other states," says Chris McCarty, who directs the surveyfor the University of Florida's Bureau of Business and EconomicResearch in Gainesville. He points out that expectations of USeconomic conditions and personal finances declined for February,while perceptions about buying big-ticket consumer items roseslightly.

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Although McCarty believes the January index of 74 (benchmarkedto 1966) seemed more optimistic than it should have been givenFlorida's economic climate, he points out that conditions arebetter now than they were a year ago. Layoffs have largely abated,and increased saving and improvement in home prices havecontributed to individual optimism, he says.

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"The problem comes down to employment and the potential effectsof extended high unemployment on other areas of the economy, suchas retail sales and housing," McCarty says. As the state's joblessrate remains in double-digit territory, and more long-termunemployed residents run out of benefits, consumer confidence andspending will likely weaken, he says.

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The Florida Consumer Attitude Survey is conducted each monthamong statewide households telephoned randomly. The February indexincluded 457 responses.

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