State unemployment rate increases to 11.3 percent

Florida’s unemployment rate increased to 11.3 percent in July, with the jobless ranks growing by 122,000 people, as the state continued trying to revitalize the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rate was up from an adjusted 10.3 percent unemployment mark for June and reflected 1.125 million jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 9.975 million people, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

The numbers, which represent an estimate of the workforce in mid-July, showed declines in construction and manufacturing. But the numbers also indicated workers returning, or trying to return, in most other categories, including financial activities, professional and business services, education and health and leisure and hospitality.

While the number of jobless people grew, the overall workforce total was up 223,000, a sign people are interested in working, Adrienne Johnston, chief of the department’s Bureau of Workforce Statistics and Economic Research, said in a video call with reporters.

“While unemployment increased, we saw employment increase at the same time,” Johnston said. “So, that shows you that while employment increased on the household side to meet those business needs, we may have had people coming back into the labor force and not immediately have a job. That could be why unemployment also increased.”

Still, almost every field remains down from before the pandemic.

Most notably, the leisure and hospitality industry remains down 254,400 jobs from a year ago.

State Senate Democrats used the monthly report to again push for lawmakers to be called into a special session to address the economic situation facing Florida and issues in the unemployment system, which was overwhelmed by jobless claims starting in April.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, compared Gov. Ron DeSantis’ approach to the troubled unemployment system, plummeting state revenues and the overall COVID-19 crisis to waiting for Congress to arrive like the cavalry to save the day.

“We have repeatedly asked this governor to call a special session to address the many ills that this state is facing due to COVID. And he and Republican leadership steadfastly refused,” Farmer said. “They don't want to do this before an election. That's what we firmly believe, because they do not want to give a platform for the questions that we're asking and highlight the fact that they don't have answers.”

A federal stimulus plan approved in the spring provided money to pay unemployed people $600 a week on top of state benefits. But the federal money ended in July.

President Donald Trump has proposed a plan that would use executive action to shift money from disaster relief to provide $400 a week to jobless people through early September. States would be required to pick up $100 of the tab.

DeSantis has not announced how he wants to proceed.

“All options remain on the table,” DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo said in an email Friday. “We are working with the (Trump) administration to ensure the best deal for Florida’s displaced workers.”

The state has received about 3.67 million unemployment claims since-mid March, when businesses started to shut down or dramatically scale back because of the pandemic.

Since mid-July, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates Florida has received 297,654 first-time jobless claims, including 66,322 last week.

While Democrats say many unemployed people have struggled to get the full benefits they’re owed, the state Department of Economic Opportunity has distributed $14 billion in state and federal money to nearly 1.9 million claimants, of which about $2.95 billion was from the state. The overall amounts have slowed since the $600 weekly payments from the federal government ended in July.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for July --- released Aug. 7 --- declined by 0.9 percentage points to 10.2 percent.

Florida was one of nine states to see upticks in unemployment in July.

The state’s vital tourism industry recorded a 60.5 percent drop in tourists during the second quarter of 2020 from a year earlier and the outlook remains dim.

Among other things, restaurants remain only able to operate at 50 percent occupancy, bars are prohibited from selling alcohol for on-site consumption, Walt Disney World is planning to cut back hours at its parks as visitor counts are down and Universal Orlando is shutting operations at two park hotels to consolidate guests.

The Orlando metropolitan statistical area, which includes Kissimmee and Sanford, posted the highest unemployment rate in the state in July at 15.3 percent, which was a decrease of 0.8 percentage points from June.

Disney World opened its theme parks in mid-July, joining others that started allowing guests in during June, Johnston said.

“That certainly had an impact in the Central Florida area,” Johnston said. “But I think what you are seeing is an overall trend of businesses continuing to open across the board, across most sectors.”

The next highest regional unemployment rates were in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan statistical area and the Lakeland-Winter Haven area, each at 13.2 percent.

The Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin area in Northwest Florida had the state’s best unemployment rate at 7 percent.

South Florida has been an epicenter of the virus, but DeSantis said this week that Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties might be able to soon join the rest of the state in a second phase of business reopening efforts. DeSantis pointed to downward trends in the rates of positive tests for the coronavirus.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said the state cannot move forward in the phased reopening approach until there have been 14 consecutive days of a 5 percent or less positivity rate for COVID-19 tests.

John Hopkins University & Medicine, which is tracking cases across the country, had Florida’s seven-day average of positive test results at 6.4 percent on Friday.