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Coronavirus in Florida: See how the state’s economy is faring

To monitor the state’s economy, the Tampa Bay Times is tracking figures that illustrate the sweep of COVID-19′s impact.

The coronavirus outbreak may continue to pose a worldwide health threat. But the economic fallout has been sweeping.

Florida once again has proved particularly vulnerable.

COVID-19 crashed ashore just as tourists were crowding beaches. It shut down Spring Break and Spring Training, not to mentioned festivals and conventions during a peak spending season that keeps businesses afloat for the rest of the year in the Sunshine State.

Florida’s April 1 stay-at-home order forced thousands of those businesses to adapt or close, some permanently. Mass layoffs followed and the state’s unemployment system buckled beneath an unprecedented number of jobless Floridians seeking help.

As the state begins to slowly reopen, the Tampa Bay Times is tracking key indicators to help illustrate the scope of economic damage and monitor how different parts of the economy recover.

An aerial view of an empty parking lot of the Westfield Brandon mall due to COVID-19 closures on April 9. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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Much of the most direct economic impact from the pandemic is visible through measures of unemployment. The unemployment rate is considered a key indicator of the economy’s health. It is calculated by surveying people on whether they were employed during a given period. The state rate is reported after the national one.

Some of the jobless impact can be seen in Florida’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification announcements, a heads-up that businesses with more than 100 employees give to the state and public before they carry out large layoffs.

A Miami-Dade County resident holds a paper unemployment form after waiting inside thier car in line at Slade park in Hialeah, April 7. [ DANIEL A. VARELA | TNS ]

And then there are the unemployment claims. Florida’s unemployment system, which Gov. Ron DeSantis called for an investigation into, has recorded more than 2 million claims as of May 11. The dip in the total unemployment claims happens as the state weeds out duplicate applications.

Bankruptcies are another way to measure how the workforce is faring, because they’ll start rising if unemployment lingers. The Brookings Institution estimated that bankruptcies because of the pandemic could outpace those during the dot-com bubble in 2000 and those during the Great Recession.

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Real estate

This is often one of the first bellwethers of hard times as consumers become more conservative with their spending and face difficulty paying their bills. Single-family home sales were strong through March, but early data from April shows Tampa Bay home sales dropping by more than 40 percent.

A lockbox is seen on a door of home for sale along 6th Avenue North in the Kenwood area of St. Petersburg Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

What wasn’t significantly affected in April, according to the early data, was the price of homes. This could indicate that buyers and sellers are delaying transactions.

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Travel, tourism and spending

Tourism, a cornerstone of the state’s economy, was hit hardest by the pandemic. Spring is when Florida sees the greatest surge in passengers traveling through Tampa International, sales tax collections and hotel occupancy rates. But the timing of the pandemic dashed that seasonal success and brought significant unemployment, even as some businesses begin to reopen.

Tampa International Airport saw a 35 percent reduction in March travelers compared to the year before. And while its daily average of passengers is in the 80,000-range this time of year, it plummeted to a low of 2,500 per day in March.

An empty and closed Clearwater Beach March 24. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Occupancy rates measure how much hotel capacity is used in a given month. Tampa Bay rates dropped by 40 percent in March compared to the same month in 2019.

The state collects sales taxes from businesses each month for goods and services sold the month before. A spike in sales associated with Christmas, for example, is reflected in the January numbers. An April spike captures the peak tourism and snowbird season in March. But preliminary data indicates that sales in March of this year fell far short of last year. That will likely have a significant impact on the state budget, which relies on sales taxes.

Check back here periodically to see how the state’s economic activity changes.

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