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Florida’s jobless rate jumped in May, but we may be through the worst

Unemployment figures jumped as the Florida began allowing businesses to reopen.

Unemployment jumped again in Florida last month as the state initiated plans that would allow businesses to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The jobless rate rose nearly a full percentage point to 14.5 percent, according to state figures released Friday, with leisure and hospitality continuing to take the brunt of layoffs over the month.

But economists say the state is likely through the worst.

“The good news is, we’ve turned the corner,” said senior Raymond James Financial economist Scott Brown. “The bad news is, we have a long, long way to go.”

Florida began adding jobs after hemorrhaging positions during the first few months of the pandemic. The state added 182,900 jobs in May. Just a month prior, the state lost 1.1 million jobs.

And while its current jobless rate rivals the peak national unemployment rate in April (14.7 percent), take the figure with a grain of salt, economists say. The rate may include misclassified furloughed workers who aren’t supposed to be counted as unemployed, which could make the figure lower. But the rate also doesn’t fully show the number of individuals who may be affected.

Roughly 1.4 million Floridians were jobless in May, largely concentrated in service sectors that rely on in-person interaction and in small businesses that aren’t able to weather economic changes as well. Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida, expects a turnaround in the labor market as the state continues to reopen.

“It was public health measures that caused the recession,” Snaith said. “As we undo it, I expect the labor report to reflect what’s happening as Florida moves through these phases of reopening.”

Getting back to pre-pandemic staffing levels, however, may not come until 2022, he said. Employers may be more cautious to hire people as they rebound, and many small businesses likely won’t survive the downturn.

Locally, Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate was 13.1 percent in May, nearly unchanged from the month prior. The jobless rate in Hillsborough County was 12.6 percent, Hernando County 14.7 percent, Pinellas County 13.4 percent and Pasco County 13.6 percent.

Optimism about an economic recovery, however, is tempered by any future spikes in COVID-19 cases and any possible businesses closures that may follow.

Florida’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism and spending that tourists produce in related sectors, such as retail. The state’s summer tourism season, already the slow part of the year, is expected to be much lighter than usual, though it will likely see some rebound as beaches and local accommodations reopen.

“If we were to repeat the same type of shutdown again in the fall, we wouldn’t be talking about another recession,” Snaith said. “We’d be talking about depression.”

The national unemployment rate was 13.3 percent in May.

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