Jobless claims hit 50 million nationwide as Florida layoffs decline

As unemployment claims slowly go down, both the state and nation are still passing record milestones.
Concession areas on the main concourse at Tropicana Field sit roped-off and unattended on July 8, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Levy Restaurants, the company that operates the Rays' concession stands, is laying off people due to the fact that leagues won't be playing games in front of fans. At the Trop, that includes 16 layoffs and more than 400 workers with reduced hours.
Concession areas on the main concourse at Tropicana Field sit roped-off and unattended on July 8, 2020 in St. Petersburg. Levy Restaurants, the company that operates the Rays' concession stands, is laying off people due to the fact that leagues won't be playing games in front of fans. At the Trop, that includes 16 layoffs and more than 400 workers with reduced hours. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 9, 2020|Updated July 9, 2020

Fifty million claims.

That’s the latest unemployment milestone surpassed by the American workforce during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday.

Another 1.31 million workers filed new unemployment claims for the week ending on Independence Day. That’s a decrease of 7 percent from the previous week that nevertheless brings the national total to 50.2 million, out of a workforce of 164.5 million, since mid-March.

In Florida, workers filed 67,070 new jobless claims — a 20.5 percent decrease from the week before, and the state’s lowest overall number since the pandemic began.

But Florida this week hit another round number of its own, as state and federal unemployment payouts passed the $9 billion mark, money that’s gone to 1.66 million claimants out of 2.92 million claims received.

The big figures reflect that while job losses may be slowing, the pandemic’s effect on the workforce remains orders of magnitude greater than anything the economies of Florida and the United States have seen in decades. Florida’s 67,070 new claims, for example, is still higher by a third than the worst week of the Great Recession.

Even as Walt Disney World prepares to reopen on Saturday, tourism will remain a hard-hit sector, said Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida.

“With tourism, unlike manufacturing and other sectors, we just couldn’t turn the lights back on, and everything was going to resume at the same level of activity pre-pandemic,” Snaith said.

Industries connected to tourism, like air travel, could also see sudden, steep setbacks, depending on how consumers and lawmakers react to surges in cases of COVID-19.

United Airlines this week sent 36,000 employees notices of potential job cuts this fall. The company has 262 employees at Tampa International Airport, and another 600 off-site. Allegiant, the largest carrier at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, announced Thursday it expects to cut costs by nearly 17 percent in the next quarter.

“What are the restrictions and what industries are most impacted by it? This is where the damage is going to be,” Snaith said. “If people aren’t flying, airlines aren’t going to need the same level of staff that they do when planes are full, like they were back in January.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did report this week that job openings in May jumped to 5.4 million, and hires jumped to 6.49 million, figures that reflected the early stages of the country’s reopening. Layoffs and other separations were at 4.1 million, a marked decrease from March and April.

Related: These Tampa Bay companies got hundreds of millions in small business PPP loans

The new labor stats arrive days after the federal government offered its first window into how $521 billion in small business relief loans have been doled out through the Paycheck Protection Program. Among the millions of recipients were numerous Florida companies that have laid off workers since March. Among them:

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  • Global Widget LLC, a Tampa company that creates hemp-based CBD products, laid off 67 employees in April. They received between $2 million and $5 million, according to the Treasury. Chief Compliance officer Margaret Richardson said the loans enabled the company to get back to its full pre-coronavirus staffing of 175 employees.
  • Tampa legal support services firm ProVest LLC, laid off 86 employees this spring and received $2 million to $5 million.
  • The Grand Plaza Hotel and Beachcomber Beach Resort and Hotel in St. Pete Beach, which are operated by the same company, temporarily laid off a combined 356 workers in March. Their owners received between $1.35 million and $2 million in all.
  • The company that operates the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, laid off 231 employees in March and received $2 million to $5 million.
  • The Innisbrook golf and spa resort in Palm Harbor furloughed 490 employees and later laid off 433; the company received $2 million to $5 million.
Related: As unemployment spikes, virtual career services help Tampa Bay veterans

Chicago concessionaire Levy Restaurants, which runs food and retail programs at stadiums and venues around the country, recently informed the state that starting Aug. 1, it would permanently lay off 92 employees, and reduce hours for at least 1,300 additional workers, at Tropicana Field, Orlando’s Amway Center and Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena. The St. Petersburg cutbacks include 16 layoffs and reduced hours for more than 400.

The Rays — which in April paid Levy workers $500 apiece in coronavirus aid — will begin their 60-game season at home on July 24. The team and city officials have not yet ruled out the possibility of games with fans in the stands. But Levy, in a statement, said the unlikelihood of “open events” in the near future made the cutbacks necessary.

“With the conditions surrounding the return of large sports gatherings in Florida still uncertain, it’s not clear when we’ll be able to operate anywhere near normal levels with fans in the stands,” the company said in a statement provided by a spokesman.

The same can be said for any business that operates near a stadium or large venue, Snaith said — which suggests that even when sports leagues return, there is pain yet to come.

“Even in the informal sector, you have people parking cars in their yards nearby stadiums. None of that’s happening,” he said. “And, of course, the bars and restaurants that benefit from these events, that surround these venues, those customers aren’t there. That’s likely to go on.”

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