Just two weeks after the national jobs report showed the early effects of the coronavius on the country’s economy, Florida got its first economic indicators of the pandemic Friday.
The Sunshine State’s unemployment rate jumped to 4.3 percent in March, up 1.5 percent from February, according to state figures. That’s the highest rate recorded in almost two years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We know from the weekly jobless claims numbers that this is very, very bad,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James Financial.
The state lost 36,600 jobs from February to March, which only captured part of the economic shutdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Much of the loss came from the leisure and hospitality sector, which shed 21,700 jobs from March to February. Food services lost the second greatest number of jobs at 20,400.
Nationally, the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in March. Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate was 4.3 percent in March, up from 3 percent in February.
Hillsborough County’s jobless rate spiked to 4.2 percent in March, up from 2.9 percent in February, while Hernando County’s rate jumped to 5.8 percent from February’s 4.1 percent. Pinellas County saw an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent in March, up from 2.9 percent the previous month, and Pasco County had a 4.8 percent unemployment rate, up from 3.4 percent.
From March 2019 to last month, the Tampa Bay market had the greatest number of job gains in the state, adding 27,200 jobs to the workforce, up 2 percent. It outpaced Orlando (19,700 jobs, up 1.5 percent) and Jacksonville (14,700 jobs, up 2 percent).
While March’s numbers are worrisome, Brown said, they are likely much worse in reality. The state report accounts for the calendar week that overlaps with March 12, which was before many of the significant closures and effects for schools and businesses.
And at a national level, there were reporting issues of furloughed employees not being classified properly. That, Brown said, means the actual unemployment rate for March nationally was likely a full percentage point higher – 5.5 percent. Florida likely had similar issues, he said.
Once the state has experienced nearly a full month of stay-at-home measures in April, the numbers will likely worsen.
“The April numbers are just going to be eye-popping,” Brown said.
Fears of entering into a recession, Brown said, are warranted. March is typically a significant month for sectors such as retail as Easter shopping and dining picks up. But with widespread layoffs and furloughs, Brown said snowballing could be an issue.
“If people lose their jobs, then they’re not spending money,” he said. “That money is somebody else’s income, and in turn, that leads to further economic weakness and it begins to build.”
This may be lessened, he said, by the stimulus checks that are currently being distributed, as well as loans to small businesses. But likely, the worst is still on the horizon.
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