Florida unemployment claims see little change
With the state set to update its unemployment rate on Friday, jobless claims continue to roll in at a pace that has varied little since mid-May.
The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday estimated 6,817 first-time jobless claims were filed in Florida during the week that ended Sept. 11, down from a revised count of 7,218 during the previous week. The federal agency initially projected 5,814 new unemployment applications were filed during the week that ended Sept. 4.
Nationally, an estimated 332,000 unemployment claims were filed last week, up from 312,000 in the week ending Sept. 4.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will release a report Friday that will include an August unemployment rate. The July rate was 5.1 percent.
Florida’s weekly unemployment claims remain far below the numbers during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, as businesses closed or scaled back. From mid-March 2020 to mid-June 2020, the state averaged just over 215,000 new claims a week.
Since mid-May this year, Florida has averaged 7,895 new claims a week. The state’s workforce grew from 10.24 million in May to 10.48 million in July, with the number of people classified as being out of work going from 503,000 in May to 530,000 in July.
The Department of Economic Opportunity report Friday will reflect mid-August conditions and mark the second month since state leaders began a push to get people back into the workforce. The state in June withdrew Florida early from two federal assistance programs --- the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation programs --- and reimplemented a “work search” requirement for people seeking unemployment benefits.
Other federal unemployment programs that were part of pandemic recovery efforts ended Sept. 6.
On Wednesday, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Kalibri Labs projected the hotel industry in Florida will end 2021 down $5.3 billion in business travel revenue, when compared to pre-pandemic 2019.
State and national lodging-industry groups are calling for targeted federal COVID-19 relief, with a news release saying a lack of business and events have “major repercussions for employment.”
“Florida is a top destination for national and international business travel, and our hotels and restaurants rely on that revenue,” Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in the release. “While leisure travel returned this year --- in some regions higher than even 2019’s record figures --- business travel still remains down overall, and Florida is projected to end 2021 with the second highest losses in the nation, behind only the state of California.”
State tourism officials have pointed to job vacancies being among the biggest challenges for many hotels and restaurants. State leaders, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle also have repeatedly said businesses have struggled to find workers despite hundreds of thousands of advertised job openings.
But Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, asked about the high number of job vacancies on Wednesday, said many people who were career service-industry workers decided to leave the field during the pandemic.
“Workers are realizing that they should not be at a job that is stressful and difficult with very low pay,” Eskamani said. “And actually, across the country, we've seen that the average hourly salary at a restaurant has increased to $15 an hour. And of course, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment on the 2020 ballot to increase our wages to $15 an hour by 2026.”
The first phase of the 2020 constitutional amendment will take effect Sept. 30, when the state’s minimum wage goes to $10 an hour. The minimum wage will then increase $1 a year until it reaches $15.
Eskamani said people have tapped federal COVID-19 benefits to use rapid training at state colleges and through the state’s CareerSource program to pursue work with more pay and benefits.
“The people of Florida are not happy with low-wage jobs,” Eskamani said. “They realize that they can't make ends meet with a low-wage job. They realize that a low-wage job isn't secure, especially since many of these folks who've worked in the service economy for decades lost their jobs like that with very little benefits.”