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New unemployment claims hold steady from week to week

Another 751,000 first-time unemployment seekers filed for benefits in the week leading up to Election Day.
 
In this June 3, 2020 photo, cashier Rosario Vargas, center, bags groceries for customers at the Presidente Supermarket in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Florida voters voted on Tuesday to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour over six years, which advocates say will benefit hundreds of thousands of workers in the Sunshine State's service-heavy economy but which opponents say will stifle industry growth.
In this June 3, 2020 photo, cashier Rosario Vargas, center, bags groceries for customers at the Presidente Supermarket in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Florida voters voted on Tuesday to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour over six years, which advocates say will benefit hundreds of thousands of workers in the Sunshine State's service-heavy economy but which opponents say will stifle industry growth. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
Published Nov. 5, 2020

In the week leading up to Election Day, the number of Americans filing new unemployment claims largely held flat.

Another 751,000 people filed their first claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending Oct. 31, according to the Department of Labor. That’s the same historically high number initially reported for the week ending Oct. 24 — although that number has since been revised upward, meaning last week’s total did represent a slight dip.

More than 21.5 million Americans claimed some form of unemployment for the week ending Oct. 17, the most recent period for which that figure is available.

In Florida, new claims last week dropped to 28,702, although the state’s initial numbers tend to be adjusted upward over the course of the following week. If that number holds, it would be the state’s lowest total since the start of the pandemic, but still higher than most weeks of the Great Recession.

As of Thursday, the total amount allocated to 2.08 million Floridians surpassed the $18 billion mark.

Benchmark numbers that massive veil broader inadequacies within the system, critics say. According to an October report in Money magazine, Florida’s 12 weeks of unemployment benefits are the second-worst of any state in the nation in terms of helping recipients cover basic living expenses.

“There’s a real problem in terms of unemployment and being able to make ends meet and not have to turn to family or to food banks or raid all your retirement savings or do whatever else you need to do in order to keep going,” said Money insurance editor Paul Reynolds, one of the report’s authors.

“Twelve weeks, obviously, in a situation like the pandemic, we already can see from the long-term unemployment from the pandemic, that’s just not enough to have people make do through something like the kind of economic upheaval that we’ve had in the last six months.”

Florida could be a state where there’s a bipartisan appetite for unemployment reform, Reynolds said. One sign: Tuesday’s voter approval of Amendment 2, which would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2027.

Related: Florida voters passed a minimum wage increase. What does that mean?

“I’m very happy that Florida spoke, that the people have spoken in a positive way,” Joseph Palma, a laid-off Miami International Airport worker, said during a post-Election Day conference call organized by grassroots group Florida for $15.

“It was hard for me to survive on unemployment,” he said. If the minimum wage goes up, “we can get better. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the businesses, small and bigger businesses. People are going to spend more money.”

That might not necessarily be the case, said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida, who called the amendment “economic policy malpractice.”

“The folks who got hurt the most by the shutdowns were low-wage earners and small businesses, and this is going to make it tough to get back to where we were pre-pandemic,” Snaith said. “When you raise the price of something, the quantity demanded of it goes down. Does that manifest itself in higher unemployment? Maybe.”

That could be especially true in Florida, where many of those who have lost jobs are in the hospitality and tourism business. Disney, for example, announced last week it was laying off 11,350 union employees in Florida, including performers — on top of around 6,700 non-union layoffs weeks ago.

“That’s a significant economic impact,” Snaith said. “It’s not unique to Central Florida that leisure and hospitality is a sector that has taken the most abuse from the pandemic and the lockdown. They already had a longer and more difficult path to recover in front of them.”