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New unemployment claims rise for the first time since April

More than 1.41 million Americans filed new jobless claims last week, a sign the economy isn't close to recovering.

The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims rose last week, ending a 15-week streak of declining claims that began in early April.

More than 1.41 million Americans filed jobless claims during the week ending July 18, bumping the overall number since the start of the coronavirus pandemic to nearly 53 million.

Florida’s new jobless claims last week dropped from a spike the previous week, but nevertheless hit 105,410, close to where they were in early June. Last week, the state reported that its historically high unemployment had dropped below the national rate, to 10.4 percent.

More than 1.78 million Floridians have received $11.25 billion in aid, with state and federal payments rising by $1 billion for the third straight week.

Related: With $600 federal relief checks running out, unemployed Floridians worry what comes next

Much of that has come from the U.S. government’s weekly $600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation checks, which are scheduled to expire this week. Without an extension of federal relief, households across Florida will face a sudden pinch, and the state’s entire economy will feel it.

“This is not the time to turn off the faucets for helping the economy, and the people that are unemployed, because it’s going to take a while to get back,” said economist Frank Ghannadian, dean of the Sykes College of Business at the University of Tampa. “People are paying their rents, their housing, doing a lot of different things to keep themselves afloat with that money. Taking it away completely is going to be a big, bad hit.”

While Ghannadian is encouraged by some job numbers in Florida, he believes the “light at the end of the tunnel” is still a ways off — especially if coronavirus cases rise again, and the state rolls back its reopening.

“My thinking is the third quarter is in a recession,” he said. “The fourth quarter is probably going to be in a recession. And this is probably going to push us even further, without some assistance.”

In Tampa Bay and across Florida, unemployment — which remains far higher than in February — weighs heavily on workers’ minds.

Three-quarters of Floridians say they’re struggling financially, according to a new survey from ParentsTogether and the grassroots group Opportunity for All Floridians. Eight percent of Floridians working in June were doing so on reduced hours, a three-point increase from June 2019, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Florida’s normally robust tourism industry is still seeing layoffs throughout the hospitality sector. And the airlines that get people here keep reporting enormous losses.

United Airlines reported Wednesday that it lost $1.6 billion in April, May and June, and more than 6,000 employees had taken buyouts. In earnings calls Thursday, Southwest Airlines reported a quarterly loss of $915 billion; while American Airlines said it lost $2.1 billion. American has shed 5,100 jobs thus far, and last week notified 25,000 employees that further reductions could be coming.

“We know we will be a smaller airline going forward,” American chairman and CEO Doug Parker said.

HBF Tampa Partners, which runs several restaurants at Tampa International Airport, filed a notice with the state that it was extending temporary layoffs for 107 workers, as the airport continues to see “a fraction of its typical passenger traffic.”

Related: Coronavirus relief is about to expire for evictions, unemployment, more

As Congress debates extending the federal government’s weekly $600 unemployment benefits, the Florida Legislature is likely to look hard at raising the state’s cap on unemployment insurance from $275, said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

“I think that’s definitely going to be up for discussion next year, and would be surprised if it isn’t adjusted,” Brandes said.

If and when that happens, some Floridians won’t be around to see the benefits.

Nick DiDonna, 32, saw his hours cut back washing dishes at Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores during the pandemic, and went on unemployment for about a month. He lives on the cheap, boarding in efficiencies and eating lots of rice and beans. Last year he lived in a house with no shower, keeping clean at a gym.

Nick DiDonna, 32, of Tampa lost his dish-washing job at Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores during the coronavirus pandemic, and went on unemployment. He used some of that money to plan a move to North Carolina, where he believes his job prospects will be better.
Nick DiDonna, 32, of Tampa lost his dish-washing job at Salt Rock Grill in Indian Shores during the coronavirus pandemic, and went on unemployment. He used some of that money to plan a move to North Carolina, where he believes his job prospects will be better. [ Nick DiDonna ]

The thing DiDonna wants most is “to have jobs available in the area that pay a wage that gets me beyond my basic bills,” he said. “Having a job that makes me at least $1,500 to $1,600 a month, that’s going to allow me to breathe. It’s going to allow me to live in a place with air conditioning.”

He’s no longer looking for that job here, though. With the money he received on unemployment, he fixed up his car and planned a move to a friend’s place in Durham, N.C. North Carolina’s minimum wage is more than a dollar an hour lower than Florida’s. But DiDonna believes the jobs he can find will pay him more than they would in Tampa Bay.

“That’s a great opportunity for me to be able to bring in a few extra hundred a month — $100 goes a long way for somebody like me,” he said. “I might fare a little better up there.”

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