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New unemployment claims drop in Florida, but rise nationwide

As Congress debates whether to extend federal unemployment insurance, another 1.43 million workers have filed new jobless claims.
Motorists take part in a caravan protest in front of Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy's office at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans, La. on July 22, 2020. They were asking for the extension of the $600 in unemployment benefits to people out of work because of the coronavirus
Motorists take part in a caravan protest in front of Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy's office at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in New Orleans, La. on July 22, 2020. They were asking for the extension of the $600 in unemployment benefits to people out of work because of the coronavirus [ STAFF PHOTO BY MAX BECHERER | AP ]
Published Jul. 30, 2020|Updated Jul. 30, 2020

The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims rose for the second straight week, a sign the nation’s steady decline among newly jobless workers may have reached a standstill.

Another 1.43 million workers filed new claims last week, up about 12,000 from the week before, bringing the U.S. total since the start of the coronavirus pandemic to 54.4 million.

The better news: After two spiky weeks, Florida’s new-claims count dropped to 87,062, a decline of nearly 22,000 from the previous week. That’s still more than double the worst week of the 2009 recession.

Florida has now shepherded $12.2 billion to 1.81 million jobless claimants during the pandemic. More than $8.9 billion of that has come from the federal government’s weekly $600 emergency unemployment payments, the last of which went out last week. Congress has been debating an extension of the payments, possibly a lower amount, but has made little progress.

Related: With $600 federal relief checks running out, unemployed Floridians worry what comes next

The new unemployment claims numbers arrived on the same day the U.S. Bureau of Economy Analysis announced America’s economy shrunk by 32.9 percent during April, May and June, the worst drop on record.

The coronavirus created a “perfect storm” of economic anxiety for people who’ve lost their jobs, said Megan Rose, CEO of Better Together, a Naples nonprofit aimed at building resources for struggling families, including helping parents find work. The group has seen a 155 percent increase in demand for its programs during the pandemic.

“The overall message we’re hearing is that people are concerned about the future; they’re feeling stressed about the economy,” Rose said. “What’s most tragic are the families and the people who’ve lost hope.”

Better Together is hosting a virtual job fair, its second of the pandemic, on Friday. It aims to put 500 prospective workers into as many as 100 jobs.

“Unemployment is a revolving door of rejection that robs people of their dignity,” she said. “Those things can be linked to substance abuse and mental health.”

The travel and tourism industries continue to be some of Florida’s hardest hit.

Plummeting passenger traffic led Tampa International Airport concessionaires this week to notify the state of more extended layoffs at several shops and restaurants, including Dylan’s Candy Bar, the Hard Rock, Cafe Ducky’s Sports Bar and Spanx. Since the start of the pandemic, at least nine companies with operations at the airport — including United Airlines, Marriott and Hertz — have filed such notices, affecting up to 1,110 employees.

The state this week eased some impending burdens on the jobless, including extending the waiver of work search and registration requirements for unemployment through Sept. 5. Gov. Ron DeSantis late Wednesday extended the state’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to Sept. 1.

Related: 'Small victory': Florida waives work requirements for food stamp recipients for another month

Those who have exhausted their state unemployment insurance can apply for the Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which can extend benefits for eligible claimants by up to 13 weeks.

Even some people who are now back at work worry about changes to unemployment insurance in the months to come, since the jobs they’ve gone back to are different than they were back in February.

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Related: Florida's eviction moratorium was extended again. Can more be done?

Christi O’Malley, a hair stylist in South Tampa, got six weeks of unemployment when her salon closed from March to mid-May. She’s now back to work, but with limitations on how many customers she can see per day. So while she is back to work full time, she’s making about a quarter less than before.

“We’re working, but business is slower and different, because you have to space everybody out, and still, a lot of people are afraid to come,” she said. “I have an older clientele, so they have compromised systems or they’re scared.”

While O’Malley’s unemployment has run out, her son, who was let go from a restaurant that closed, has kept receiving checks. He’s 20 and lives at home with her, paying rent. Their family is keeping an eye on Washington to see if Congress extends the federal government’s $600 weekly unemployment payments, which ended last week.

“Even if they did a couple of hundred dollars, it would certainly help him with car insurance,” she said. “We’ll just tighten the belt up a little bit. And I’m being very cautious, because who knows what’s going to happen? It’s far from over."

That, she said, should be enough for the state and federal government to shore up their unemployment systems before rushing to reopen the economy.

“I think we should wait on reopening 100 percent, and I think it should be a little more uniform across the board,” she said. “People’s lives matter more than the money. The money will come back. They really need to take care of the people, and keep the unemployment going.”

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