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Florida’s economy under coronavirus: Pandemic devastated peak season

The state's economy showed some signs of stabilizing, but future movement depends on the pandemic's spread.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s first two months sent Florida’s major economic indicators into free-fall along with those in much of the rest of the world.

And during what should have been the state’s major tourism season.

Mass layoffs followed and the state’s unemployment system buckled beneath an unprecedented number of jobless Floridians seeking help.

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

Here’s how things look so far.

Unemployment

Florida’s jobless rate rocketed in April and climbed again in May as mass layoffs from the pandemic swept the state. While the highest state unemployment rate in nearly half a century is cause for concern, economists said May also brought the first positive indication that the state is on a path toward stability — it added jobs over the month.

Businesses with more than 100 employees give Florida advanced notice before they carry out large layoffs through the state’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification announcements. May’s notifications nearly matched April’s peak, but leveled off.

Despite the state adding a small number of jobs month-over-month, Florida’s workforce is still reeling from historic unemployment numbers. By the state’s count, upward of 2.5 million unemployment claims were filed since March, with about half being paid. The state’s often-overwhelmed website for filing unemployment benefits applicants remains a challenge for those submitted claims and the state had to shut its Tallahassee unemployment office down after its first COVID-19 case.

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

Real estate

After showing signs of softening in early data from April, Florida’s singled-family home sales lurched downward in May. Home sales dropped by more than 25 percent from the beginning of the pandemic, and were down about 40 percent in May from the same time last year.

The price of homes also dipped across the state from April to May, though Tampa Bay prices continued to rise.

Foreclosures on homes, a sign consumers can’t afford some of their largest but most necessary expenses, were banned through July 1 by Gov. Ron DeSantis and declined through the pandemic as a result.

Travel, tourism and spending

Tourism, a cornerstone of the state’s economy, continued to suffer as the hardest-hit sector. COVID-19 crushed the winter-to-spring tourism season, which traditionally bolsters state coffers before the slower summer season. Events such as Pride celebrations and music events were canceled, as were cruises, though staycationers and snowbirds made up a small part of what Pinellas County lost.

An absent spring tourism season means Florida’s state budget may take a hit, as it is heavily reliant on sales tax. Businesses pay the state a monthly sales tax for the goods and services sold the month prior. Spring break revenue in March, for example, shows up in April’s numbers. The sales tax in Florida continued to fall through the end of peak season.

Tampa International Airport saw a small rebound in passengers after numbers fell of a cliff in March compared to a year before. Previously, passenger counts plummeted to as low as 2,500 per day in March at Tampa International. St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport saw a similar dropoff.

Occupancy rates measure how much overall hotel capacity is used in a given month. After Tampa Bay occupancy rates dropped by 40 percent in March compared to the same month in 2019, the area saw a small rebound in May, a month after the state began allowing businesses to start reopening.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

HOW CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING IN FLORIDA: Find the latest numbers for your county, city or zip code.

THE CORONAVIRUS SCRAPBOOK: We collected your stories, pictures, songs, recipes, journals and more to show what life has been like during the pandemic.

SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first

UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits

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