The burgeoning BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could cost Florida's economy $10.9 billion and wipe out 195,000 jobs, according to a preliminary report Tuesday from University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith.
And that's just if the spill's impact is contained to the state's coastal counties along the gulf. If the oil flow damages counties along Florida's east coast, the estimate would rise sharply.
Snaith, director of UCF's Institute for Economic Competitiveness, doesn't want to even address that scenario yet. "Let me deal with the Gulf Coast first," he said in an interview Tuesday.
Snaith's estimates are based on the scenario of a 50 percent loss of employment and output in the leisure and hospitality sector of Florida's 23 Gulf Coast counties. He acknowledges that the estimate is very preliminary, more a starting point to get a handle on the economic impact.
At this point, he said, it's too early to tell which counties will be hit hardest.
With an unemployment rate of 12 percent, Florida has been more severely impacted by the Great Recession than most states, entering the downturn early and expected to lag in recovery.
The BP catastrophe, Snaith said, will only make a rebound tougher.
Snaith said the timing couldn't be worse, as Florida is at "the most susceptible point of this nascent recovery." Before the oil spill, he was predicting it would take another year and a half to two years for tourism in particular to get back on stronger footing.
"Florida is still trying to recover from the impact of this prolonged recession and now you have this," he said. "It hardly seems fair."