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Florida Unemployment Claims At Pre-Pandemic Level

The state lost 1.3 million jobs between February 2020 and April 2020 and has recovered just over 70 percent of that number.
Leroy Harvey/rz1rhd
The state lost 1.3 million jobs between February 2020 and April 2020 and has recovered just over 70 percent of that number.

The state averaged just over 5,500 new claims a week during the first 11 weeks of 2020, but claims jumped to 74,313 during the week that ended March 21, 2020, as the pandemic began to ravage the economy.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he anticipates “pretty good” July unemployment numbers, as a federal report Thursday showed that first-time jobless claims last week in Florida were at a level not seen since before the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimated that 4,381 new unemployment claims were filed in Florida during the week that ended Aug. 7, down from a revised count of 7,718 claims in the week ending July 31.

The estimate for last week is the lowest number since 3,807 claims during the week that ended Dec. 28, 2019, more than two months before the pandemic started causing massive jobs losses in March 2020.

During an appearance Wednesday, DeSantis said he expects a July unemployment report will show the state continuing to add private-sector jobs, with a number similar to the 69,300 jobs added in June. The state Department of Economic Opportunity will release the July report on Aug. 20.

“You are seeing a real boom in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said while at North Bay Haven Charter Academy Elementary School in Panama City. “I don't know specific, I'd have to ask the folks you know down at the beach, but like the tourism, even in August, when it's hotter, it's just been off the charts. People are doing very well. And we want to continue to keep that going.”

The state lost 1.3 million jobs between February 2020 and April 2020 and has recovered just over 70% of that number.

Pointing to around a half-million job openings across the state, DeSantis credited the recovery, in part, to the state’s recent efforts to spur jobless people to go back into the workforce.

State officials, repeatedly pointing to businesses struggling to find workers, in June reinstated a “work search” rule that requires people claiming unemployment benefits to apply for five jobs a week. DeSantis also stopped Florida’s participation in a federal program that offered $300 a week to unemployed people on top of the maximum $275 a week in state benefits.

Supporters of the changes argued that many people who qualified for state and federal relief could delay a return to work because they were making more money on unemployment than they would at jobs in places such as restaurants and hotels. DeSantis said Wednesday the federal government provided a “disincentive” for people to return to the workforce.

But Democrats and groups such as the Florida AFL-CIO countered that the state is forcing people to take jobs below their skill levels and at low, non-livable wages.

A group of Broward County residents struggling financially have filed a legal challenge to the decision to cut off the federal payments, contending that the move violated state law. The lawsuit was filed last month in Broward County but was transferred Tuesday to Leon County at the request of the DeSantis administration.

“Each of the plaintiffs have suffered economic hardships because of COVID, have had difficulty finding work and now with the discontinuation of the (the additional federal money) face even more pressing financial hardships,” the lawsuit said.

The National Federation of Independent Business reported Tuesday that business optimism declined in July, with labor shortages among the biggest challenges. Other areas of concern included weaker sales, a rise in the costs of materials and labor costs.

According to Department of Economic Opportunity figures, just over half of the total job gains for June were in the leisure and hospitality fields.

Last week, the federal Department of Labor reported the U.S. economy added 943,000 jobs in July, with the national unemployment rate falling from 5.9% to a pandemic-low of 5.4%. That represented the biggest hiring spree since August 2020.

Just over 40% of the jobs added nationally in July were in the leisure and hospitality fields, with pay overall up 4% from a year ago.

The labor department on Thursday reported 375,000 new unemployment claims nationally last week, down 12,000 from the prior week.

Florida’s June unemployment rate was 5%, reflecting that an estimated 523,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed from a workforce of 10.398 million.

Over the past four weeks, Florida has averaged 8,045 new claims a week, according to the federal data.