As new year begins, another 787,000 file new unemployment claims

New claims for the week encompassing New Year’s Day largely held steady from the week before.
A Help Wanted sign is posted at a Designer Eyes store at Brickell City Centre Nov. 6, in Miami.  [Lynne Sladky | Associated Press]
A Help Wanted sign is posted at a Designer Eyes store at Brickell City Centre Nov. 6, in Miami. [Lynne Sladky | Associated Press] [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Jan. 7, 2021|Updated Jan. 7, 2021

The new year began with another crush of Americans making new claims for unemployment.

Another 787,000 people filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending Jan. 2, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s essentially level with the prior seven-day period, which was also a holiday week.

In all, 19.17 million people received for some form of unemployment in mid-December, 10 times the number that did so during the same week in 2019.

In Florida, the number of claimants seeking unemployment insurance fell to 21,441, a drop of more than 5,000 from the previous week’s revised number. To date, the state has paid or shepherded $19.9 billion, most of it federal money, to 2.17 million claimants.

Those numbers are likely to rise in the coming weeks as data reflects the extension of unemployment benefits through the government’s latest $900 billion coronavirus relief and stimulus package. Unemployment benefits that were due to extend at the end of 2020 have been extended into March and April.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has said that job seekers who are eligible to receive the federal government’s latest $300 on top of their state benefits should start seeing that payment soon, but there was no timetable as of Thursday. A department spokeswoman said users should check their accounts every 48 hours for the latest updates.

The additional aid can’t come fast enough for Valerie Sommerville of St. Petersburg, who worked in social media before losing her job in March.

Her eligibility for state unemployment ran out in mid-December, she said. But over the last two weeks, as the federal benefits have been extended, she’s been able to claim for Pandemic Unemployment. Her claims are on hold as she makes her appeal to the state that she should be able to claim the extended federal benefits.

“I’m in shock. It was bad enough not having money for Christmas for the kids,” said Sommerville, 49. “I know I’m not the only one suffering in this area.”

Some employers also have a bearish outlook on employment in 2021.

In a study released this week, the Associated General Contractors of America projected that many upcoming construction projects would be postponed or canceled outright, making it more difficult for builders to hire workers. In Florida, more than half of respondents expected it to be hard to hire in 2021.

“Early on in the COVID stuff, somebody suggested to me that with all these people that are unemployed, you should have no problem finding folks,” said Bob Schafer, president of Ranger Construction in West Palm Beach “While I appreciate the comment, you can’t put a bartender or a waitress on a motor grader. We would love to, and we would love to help that industry out, but it’s not possible.”