The unemployment crisis in Florida and the nation continued to deepen last week as a total of nearly 2.44 million more workers nationwide filed for unemployment benefits, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.
Around the Tampa Bay area, some well-known employers — including Innisbrook, the Don CeSar Hotel and Nielsen — are reporting layoffs or furloughs as the number of jobs lost continues to grow.
In the nine weeks since the start of shutdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the number of jobs lost nationwide has topped 38.6 million, or 23 percent of the total U.S. labor force.
The damage widens when things like reduced hours or lost commissions are factored in. In a Census Bureau survey of U.S. adults released Wednesday, 47 percent said they or someone in their home had experienced a loss of employment income since March 13.
In Florida, 223,927 filed claims for unemployment assistance last week as the state continues to work through a backlog of applications from frustrated and in some cases increasingly desperate workers.
“Still have not got an unemployment check,” Panama City bartender Kristina Page said in a message to the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday night. “Been trying for two months.”
As of Wednesday, the state Department of Economic Opportunity reported receiving a total of 1.7 million unemployment claims and had processed 1.5 million of them. It so far has paid $2.7 billion to 985,957 people, which it says represents 96 percent of those who have been determined to be eligible.
While acknowledging that the state’s unemployment system has performed poorly, Gov. Ron DeSantis last week said some Floridians seeking the money were to blame themselves for improperly filling out applications.
In one area — paying federal pandemic unemployment assistance to gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed — Florida has gotten off to a slow start. For example, Maryland, with a third of Florida’s population, has paid more than five times the amount of pandemic unemployment assistance.
On Thursday, Florida was one of 16 states that continue to report zero claims to the Labor Department for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which Congress authorized to cover workers excluded from traditional unemployment insurance programs. A state website, however, said the state so far has processed 112,670 of those claims and paid $34.3 million to 69,666 individuals.
Meanwhile, employers continue to file notices of cutbacks with the state. Some are for layoffs or furloughs that took place as long as two months ago, but some reflect the way the sharp fall-off in economic activity continues to hollow out the job market. Around the Tampa Bay area, cutbacks disclosed during the last week include:
• 433 hotel, restaurant, golf course, fitness, maintenance and other employees that the Innisbrook resort in Palm Harbor plans to lay off permanently on June 30. Previously, Innisbrook furloughed 490 employees on March 23.
Since then, “Innisbrook has experienced a significant decline in demand in the hospitality industry, which will result in a dramatic decrease in revenue and resulted in the need to take further action with regard to our workforce,” managing director Mike Williams said in a layoff notice to the state.
• 213 hotel and restaurant employees who have been laid off temporarily or had their hours cut beginning May 13 at the Don CeSar Hotel on St. Pete Beach.
• 178 employees, most of them research interviewers, who were furloughed starting April 27 from the Oldsmar offices of media ratings company Nielsen Co. Nielsen also laid off six employees permanently. In its notice to the state, Nielsen said the cutbacks resulted from changes to its business driven by the pandemic.
• 124 hotel and restaurant employees furloughed from the Tampa Embassy Suites starting in mid-March.
Unemployment is expected to continue to drag on the economy through the spring. This week, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimated that gross domestic product could end up falling more than 40 percent for April, May and June.
“This is going to have long-term effects,” Florida Chamber Foundation chief economist Jerry Parrish told the current affairs discussion group Café con Tampa this week. “Some industries will come back online sooner than others.”
Construction, for instance, has actually accelerated some projects.
“What you’ve got to think about is the amount of leisure and hospitality jobs,” he said. “Those aren’t all going to come back soon. It’s going to take a vaccine, probably, before we get back to 100 percent on our tourism numbers.”
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