Nearly 30 million Americans file unemployment claims in six weeks

A total of 3.8 million nationwide filed last week. Florida’s total was 432,465.
Restaurant worker Glen Pile, left, waits in line to get an unemployment form at a Miami-Dade County library on April 8.
Restaurant worker Glen Pile, left, waits in line to get an unemployment form at a Miami-Dade County library on April 8. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published April 30, 2020|Updated April 30, 2020

Another 3.8 million laid-off workers filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, bringing nationwide job losses over the last six weeks to 29.8 million, or 18 percent of the nation’s labor force.

Over the last month, an average of 5 million people a week have filed unemployment claims.

In Florida, 432,465 workers managed to file claims through the state’s troubled unemployment claims website or with paper applications. That’s a decrease from the 506,670 who had filed a week earlier.

Florida offers a maximum unemployment benefit of $275 a week for up to 12 weeks, with more weeks added if the state’s unemployment rate rises above 5 percent. In addition, Congress has approved federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week to jobless Americans including, for the first time, self-employed workers, independent contractors and other gig economy workers.

As of Wednesday, the state Department of Economic Opportunity said it had verified 916,002 unique claims and paid a total of more than $579.5 million to nearly 417,000 workers who had filed claims.

But applicants have had to use the state’s system for both the state and federal benefits. The applications portal has failed throughout the crisis, forcing many workers to spend hours online in frustration, with state helplines where calls either don’t go through or are answered by state workers who can’t address specific claims questions.

Related: Florida takes unemployment website down to process claims. Workers protest online.

“We have people that applied for unemployment when this thing first started and their jobs just shut down” who still haven’t received help, said Margaret Cameron, 68, of Tampa.

By getting up at 2 a.m. to get on the state’s website before it was flooded, Cameron said she managed to apply for benefits on March 27 after being furloughed from her job in the billing office of an ambulatory surgery center in Carrollwood. She has since received a single payment of $600, but when she tries to check on her status, the state’s unemployment system tells her she’s ineligible, including for the payment that she’s already received. And trying to call the state Department of Economic Opportunity for help is worthless, she said.

Margaret Cameron
Margaret Cameron [ Margaret Cameron ]

“It’s so confusing,” said Cameron, who said she has filed a complaint about the system with the state Office of Inspector General. “Someone needs to hold government responsible.”

Related: Floridians deemed 'ineligible' for unemployment should re-apply, state says

Unemployment claims data suggest Tampa Bay area might be faring a little better than Orlando, South Florida or the state as a whole, according to an analysis this week from the nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership.

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But women and younger, less educated workers have been hit the hardest, as have working-class neighborhoods in West Tampa and Town 'n’ Country in Hillsborough County, central St. Petersburg, and Holiday and New Port Richey in Pasco County.

For the analysis, the partnership looked at claims filed through April 4, the most recent date for which detailed data is available.

At that point, a little more than 100,000 bay area workers had filed a claim for unemployment — and, it’s worth remembering, many more certainly had not because of the state’s breakdown-prone claims website. That worked out to a little more than 4 percent of the region’s workforce, slightly behind the state average and less than the nearly 5 percent in South Florida and 6 percent in Orlando.

While women make up about 57 percent of the bay area’s labor force, they accounted for nearly 61 percent of claims, the partnership found. Similarly, workers younger than 35 make up less than 34 percent of the bay area’s labor force, but they filed nearly 42 percent of claims. The disparity among workers who have a high school education or less is even bigger: They’re just 29 percent of the work force, but they filed nearly 40 percent of jobless claims.

The hardest-hit industries — including food service and preparation, administrative support, entertainment and recreation, and services such as auto repair, dry cleaners, barbers and hairdressers — account for about a quarter of the jobs around Tampa Bay, but generated more than 58 percent of jobless claims. Food service workers alone filed 29 percent of the claims.

“It’s very scary to think about how long this is going” to last, said Katherine Gorr, 43, of St. Petersburg, who was laid off from her job as a line cook at Stillwaters Tavern on Beach Drive. “When is our industry going to come back from this?”

Layoffs not only hit certain industries harder, they also had an outsized impact in some neighborhoods.

The zip codes with the highest percentages of the workforce filing claims were in St. Petersburg (more than 6 percent in 33701, 33707 and 33713) and western Pasco County (more than 6 percent in 34652, 34653, 34690 and 34691). In Hillsborough County, nearly 6 percent of the workforce filed claims in Town 'n’ Country (33615 and 33634), West Tampa and the Carver City/Lincoln Gardens neighborhood (33607), Ybor City and East Tampa (33605).

Meanwhile, the state continues to post layoff notices filed by employers, often weeks after the cutbacks were made. In the Tampa Bay area, cutbacks disclosed over the past week include:

• 1,206 employees — 98 of them full-time — from the Clearwater-based YMCA of the Suncoast. The cuts included workers in the YMCA’s fitness and exercise programs, employees who work with children and support staff.

• 359 from Miller’s Ale House restaurants in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Brandon and Seminole.

• 337 at BIC Graphic North America, which makes everything from plastic cups to mousepads to pens to sticky notes, from three facilities in Clearwater.

• 231 at the Sheraton Sand Key on Clearwater Beach.

• 156 workers, most of them skycaps and passenger service assistants, working at Tampa International Airport for Prospect of Tampa.

• 127 from the Tampa location of clothing, fashion and cosmetics company Perry Ellis International.

• 113 at furniture-maker Leggett & Platt’s locations in Spring Hill and Tampa.

• 57 by the Newslink retailer at Tampa International Airport.

• • •

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