With less than a week until Election Day, new unemployment claims last week dipped to a new low during the coronavirus pandemic. Still, they remain far higher than any other period in more than half a century.
Another 751,000 people made new jobless claims last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a drop of nearly 40,000 from the previous week. By comparison, that same figure was at 251,000 the week before Election Day 2016. For the first time in the pandemic, the four-week average for new unemployment claims dropped below 800,000.
While those numbers could be seen as slow but steady improvement — especially coupled with Thursday’s Bureau of Economic Analysis report that the U.S. economy grew by more than 33 percent from July to September — none of it has been enough to fully wipe out employment and economic losses from earlier in the pandemic. More than 22.6 million Americans claimed some form of unemployment for the week ending Oct. 10.
In Florida, new claims fell to 30,874, down more than 9,000 from last week’s revised number. To date, the state has processed $17.76 billion in unemployment money for more than 2 million claimants.
Both presidential candidates set campaign events Thursday in Tampa, underscoring the importance of Florida’s electoral votes in the race for the White House.
At Tampa International Airport, where the pandemic has cost workers hundreds of jobs at stores, restaurants and rental car agencies, there are some signs of improvement as the holiday season approaches, said CEO Joe Lopano.
“All of the Starbucks are now open at the airsides, so that should tell you that things are coming back a little bit,” he said. “We have seen many of the concessionaires re-open their doors as the passengers continue to come back and rehire folks.”
Meanwhile, theme parks are still trying to regain their footing. Universal Orlando has seen thousands of furloughs at the park and its surrounding hotels. Executives at the park’s parent company, Comcast, said on an earnings call Thursday that they believe the company’s theme park operations could break even at some point in 2021.
And after announcing layoffs of around 28,000 employees company-wide, Disney this week let go most of its performers at Walt Disney World and other Orlando-area properties. According to the Actors' Equity Association, Disney has laid off 720 of 780 cast members who belonged to the union.
“Our hearts go out to all the cast members at Walt Disney World,” Kate Shindle, president of the union, said in a statement. “These reductions are another tragic reminder that until the virus is brought under control for a national strategy for masks, testing and contract tracing, everyone who works in the arts needs help like extended pandemic unemployment insurance and federal COBRA health insurance subsidies.”
Other Florida businesses that have shed jobs this year are trying to stabilize for 2021, regardless of who wins control of the White House and Congress.
St. Petersburg-based Raymond James Financial, which this fall announced plans to cut 4 percent of its workforce, is not anticipating further layoffs, said chairman and CEO Paul Reilly. At the same time, he couldn’t point to the direction the economy might take in 2021, regardless of who wins the White House.
“We remember there were a lot of years where we could draw a line and look at trends and pretty much tell you what was going to happen,” he said. “Certainly, that’s not this environment right now.”