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In a week, Florida’s new unemployment claims nearly double

The sharp increase, the state's highest since May, reverses a weeks-long decline in new jobless claims.

After weeks of steady declines, the number of Floridians filing new unemployment claims last week nearly doubled.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that new jobless claims in the state jumped from about 67,000 for the week ending July 4 to 129,408 for the week ending July 11. It’s the state’s highest number of new unemployment claims since late May, and more than double the number of new claims coming from the next highest state, Georgia.

The data comes from a week in which Florida added more than 64,000 new coronavirus cases, a tally the state is likely to eclipse this week. Thursday brought new daily records in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Such numbers, as well as a potential second wave looming this fall, could play into future job losses.

“I wouldn’t look at this as an aberration,” said University of South Florida economics instructor Chris Jones. “I would look at it as part of a potential, rather dark economic trend.”

At this point in the pandemic, Jones said, businesses still operating in the red could be seeing loan money run out, and will feel less stable as governments re-institute safety restrictions.

“A lot of people went back to work with the opening of restaurants and face-to-face establishments,” he said. “And then when the brakes got put on that, you see where the job losses are coming from.”

Deborah Dion, an organizer with the South Florida AFL-CIO labor union, said this means some workers have lost their jobs more than once.

“The people that did go back to work are now being laid off again,” said Dion, whose group organized a caravan to Sen. Rick Scott’s office in Miami on Thursday to express support for extending federal unemployment benefits. “And more are working less.”

Jerry Parrish, chief economist for the Florida Chamber Foundation, said it’s too early to point to a single reason why jobless claims would leap so high in a week.

“I can tell you that they’re going to be volatile for a while, as businesses make their decisions on what they think about the status of opening the economy,” Parrish said. “Instead of seeing this one as unusually high, maybe the last week or two were unusually low. We really have to take a longer look at this, rather than week to week.”

Cumulative state and federal unemployment payments to Floridians passed the $10 billion mark this week, with 1.71 million claimants receiving money. It’s the second straight week payouts in Florida have risen by $1 billion.

Nationwide, new unemployment claims during the pandemic rose by 1.3 million — a modest decline from the previous week — to 51.5 million.

The latest job data comes as industries in traditional sectors, such as retail, keep sliding. Mall staple New York & Co. filed for bankruptcy this week, Brooks Brothers the week before. JCPenney, which is closing 152 stores nationwide, announced it will soon lay off 1,000 employees. Outfitter REI is expected to lay off 400 furloughed workers by the end of the week.

Tourism, especially the hotel industry, continues to be hit hard in Florida, which Jones said will continue even if theme parks stay open.

“If you’ve seen Orlando’s numbers, they’re scary,” he said. “A lot of those locally and regionally owned, marginally performing facilities, they got such a significant component of that area’s overall room inventory. You’re going to see them go belly-up. You’re already starting to see it.”

The air travel industry is also facing a steep climb back to solid ground.

In June, Tampa International Airport saw a 73.1 percent drop in passengers from the same month in 2019, while St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport saw a 38 percent year-over-year drop.

Related: St. Pete-Clearwater airport traffic up in June, but still way down from 2019

Delta, which this week posted a $5.72 billion quarterly loss, will allocate as much as $3 billion for employee buyouts starting Aug. 1, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Reductions are also under discussion at United, American Airlines and Southwest.

Other parts of the service and tourism industries are similarly affected. Delaware North, a multinational food and beverage group that operates concessions at airports and other facilities, said recently that temporary layoffs, which began in March, would extend through the fall, affecting 3,323 workers in Florida.

Delaware North’s Florida partners include Tampa International Airport, where 139 jobs were affected. There, Delaware North works with TPA Hospitality Partners, a group co-founded by Tampa Bay Lightning owner and entrepreneur Jeff Vinik, restaurateur Maryann Ferenc and others; teir airport operations include RumFish Grill, Four Green Fields, PDQ and the Cafe at Mise en Place.

“The leave will likely be extended through September or beyond,” Delaware North said in a statement provided by a spokesman. “We have, though, been able to recall more than 30 employees since May as we have resumed some operations and expanded our hours.”

Signs for social distancing are spread throughout a waiting area at Tampa International Airport's airside E terminal on July 2, 2002. At the airport, 488,567 passengers passed through the gates in June, a 73.1 percent decrease from June 2019. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority voted in June to provide $5.5 million in rent and fee relief for concessionaires, including TPA Hospitality Partners, until May 2021. Some support will come from an $81.2 million relief grant the airport received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Delaware North also handles concessions at Amalie Arena, where it said 592 employees would be affected, although most are part-time and haven’t worked since March. The Vinik Sports Group has been paying for 27 full-time Delaware North employees, and will continue to do so, said Vinik spokesman Bill Wickett. Since mid-April, those workers have prepared 100,000 meals for Feeding Tampa Bay.

Nearly 400,000 Florida businesses received billions of dollars through the U.S. Treasury and Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. Tens of millions in funding, such as the airport grant, has flowed into the region from other sources.

Related: The government said these companies got millions in PPP loans. They didn't.

But as long as coronavirus numbers keep rising, business owners will feel an even bigger crunch. Before long, Jones said, retail, tourism and air travel won’t be the only industries facing layoffs and bankruptcy.

“You’re seeing the front end of business closures, where these businesses that have been hanging on by a thread for a long period of time, trying to survive on PPP monies, they can’t make it anymore,” he said. “Even if they’ve got the capital resources to make it through these times of loss, if you’re starting to go through a five-, six-, seven-month period where your numbers are red, guess what? You likely will have larger organizations that can’t make it and could go under.”

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