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New jobless claims stuck at 1 million; more hotel, airport losses hit Tampa Bay

Florida’s new unemployment claims drop week-to-week, but will persist as long as tourism keeps struggling.
The Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach last week notified staff that it plans to extend temporary layoffs for 146 employees, including workers at its restaurants and gift shops, like the Uncle Pindy's store shown here on July 8, 2020.
The Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach last week notified staff that it plans to extend temporary layoffs for 146 employees, including workers at its restaurants and gift shops, like the Uncle Pindy's store shown here on July 8, 2020. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Aug. 27, 2020|Updated Aug. 28, 2020

Americans filed another 1 million new unemployment claims last week — about the same number as other weeks in August, and a sign that job losses and gains have leveled off in late summer.

In Florida, meanwhile, Thursday’s report from the U.S. Department of Labor showed jobless claims fell. The number of new claims decreased by more than any other state in the nation, falling from last week’s adjusted total of 72,774 to 45,743. While that number, too, likely will be adjusted upward, it still represents Florida’s largest week-to-week drop in more than a month.

Florida has now paid nearly $14.4 billion to 1.92 million claimants. That sum will rise in the coming weeks, as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Wednesday he would enroll the state in an expanded benefits program created by President Donald Trump.

Related: Ron DeSantis says Florida will sign onto Trump's enhanced unemployment benefits program

Under the program, Floridians currently receiving at least $100 per week in unemployment insurance would receive an additional $300 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund. That money will be paid to eligible Floridians retroactive to Aug. 1, but is expected to last only a few weeks.

The good-news, bad-news numbers regarding new jobless claims are the latest reflection of a late summer of mixed messages related to the economy.

Wall Street is up, and so are home sales and purchases of durable household goods. But Florida’s unemployment rate rose to 11.3 percent in July, and there remains a deep economic divide between Black and white Tampa Bay residents.

Florida’s dependence on hospitality and tourism will make it more difficult to rebound fully before next year, said University of South Florida economist Xin Jin.

“It’s not just a domestic tourist destination; it’s also regional, national or international,” Jin said. “Without people from outside the state, then it’s really difficult for Florida to absorb and support all those facilities that are built for the whole world.”

For at least the sixth time this year, a major concessionaire at Tampa International Airport has filed a mass layoff notice with the state. HMSHost, whose airport eateries include the Columbia Cafe and Cigar City Brewing, said 322 furloughed workers in Tampa will know by Oct. 15 whether their layoffs will become permanent. HMSHost filed similar notices with airports in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Sarasota, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers, potentially affecting more than 2,600 employees across the state.

“Never in the history of aviation and the hospitality industry have we experienced such catastrophic customer traffic declines,” read a letter filed with the state by HMSHost Field HR business partner Carrie Hernandez.

In St. Pete Beach, even the venerable Don CeSar Hotel is feeling the pinch.

Related: The Don CeSar cheated death decades ago. Now the pandemic is a new wrinkle in its history.

The resort filed notice with the state that it would be extending spring layoffs for 146 workers due to hits incurred through a variety of factors: A dropoff in convention and banquet business, restaurant capacity guidelines, and orders that select travelers self-quarantine for two weeks when entering a new state.

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“Right now, we only have the locals,” Jin said. “Maybe the locals are back to normal, but the outside people, if they don’t want to come, it’s still a big challenge for Florida.”

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