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Florida layoff notices were sky-high last year. Where are we now?

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notices are a heads-up that substantial layoffs are ahead.
Florida WARN notices were high last year. Many of the job losses were from the hardest-hit industries, such as dining, service and hospitality. Pictured is Yrma Batista, 23, from New York City choosing buffet items at Terra Gaucha in Tampa in September. | [SCOTT KEELER | Times (2020)]
Florida WARN notices were high last year. Many of the job losses were from the hardest-hit industries, such as dining, service and hospitality. Pictured is Yrma Batista, 23, from New York City choosing buffet items at Terra Gaucha in Tampa in September. | [SCOTT KEELER | Times (2020)] [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jan. 19, 2021

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the state’s early bellwethers for unemployment was skyrocketing.

Florida’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications — commonly known as WARN notices — are a 60-day heads-up the state requires companies to give before they lay off a sizeable portion of their workforce.

Typically, only a handful are filed during a 30-day period. In 2019, for example, Florida companies announced an average of just over 1,000 total employees laid off each month.

But last year, that average jumped to more than 14,500 workers cut each month. Most came from the hardest-hit sectors: service jobs, and leisure and hospitality.

“The pandemic has had the biggest effect on consumer services,” said Scott Brown, Raymond James Financial’s chief economist, “anything where somebody comes into close contact with someone else.”

This required face-to-face contact ground much of the hotel, attraction and food service business to a halt, particularly as travel nose-dived beginning in March. What compounded the industry’s losses was that hotels often are combined with restaurants and attractions, causing the cuts they made to be deep, said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel Motel Association.

The year’s highest number of WARN layoffs was in June, when companies cut 29,000 workers, many of whom came from hotel chains such as Marriott International and The Ritz-Carlton.

For a few months, the federal Paycheck Protection Program helped companies pay their previously furloughed or laid-off workers.

But those funds ran out in September, when Florida saw its largest recent uptick in WARN notice layoffs. This time, theme parks shed the most positions: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and its payroll company (about 7,300 positions); Universal Studios’ Universal City Development Partners (roughly 5,400 positions); and two branches of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, which includes Busch Gardens (about 2,800 positions).

SeaWorld’s parent company had furloughed 90 percent of its workers in March, officially laying many off in the fall after attendance dropped by 96 percent between April and June. Disney’s layoffs were part of its 28,000-employee layoff plan across its parks in Florida and California. At the time, Disney had about 77,000 employees in the Sunshine State.

Since then, WARN notices have been fewer and further between. Just over 3,200 layoffs were announced in November, dropping to 1,750 layoffs the following month. WARN notices for 600 positions were filed as of mid-January, on track to come in below or at January 2020′s pre-pandemic layoffs of 1,300 employees. The Tampa Bay Times accounted for about 160 of the January 2021 positions.

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Some of the dip is seasonal. Job movement around the winter holidays is often slow, Raymond James’ Brown said. And with such large cuts before, there simply aren’t as many employees to lay off. Florida’s initial unemployment claims as of Jan. 2, the most recent data available, are still high at 24,700 claims, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

But there are emerging bright spots. Several hotels have opened recently in Tampa Bay alone, and with the Super Bowl scheduled for next month in Tampa, the Tampa Bay and surrounding economies likely can expect some boost from related spending. Brown said he has heard anecdotes of hotels being booked in the later parts of the year as consumers hope for an upturn.

Related: Florida’s coronavirus economy: Down so long that things are looking up

Longer-term recovery, however, depends on the response to the pandemic.

“We truly are not going to get back to a level playing field until we get our public health challenge addressed,” Morrison said. “The pace of our economic recovery is directly tied to the pace of our vaccinations.”

• • •

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