Florida jobless claims drop last week

In this photo illustration, a person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

First-time unemployment claims dropped last week in Florida as pressure builds on the state’s hospitality and tourism industries amid the lingering impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimated Thursday that 35,960 initial unemployment claims were filed in Florida during the week that ended Oct. 17, down from 47,904 the prior week and 42,306 during the week that ended Oct. 3.

Nationally, the estimate of first-time claims was 787,000 last week, down from 842,000 during the week that ended Oct. 10. A four-week average was down by 21,500 to 811,250 a week as Congress continues to debate a new round of federal stimulus.

The reduction in new claims in Florida came on the heels of the state last Friday reporting that the unemployment rate went from 7.3 percent in August to 7.6 percent in September. The new rate reflected an estimated 770,000 Floridians out of work and was based on mid-September conditions, when the state was recording fewer than 40,000 new claims a week.

Since mid-March, when the pandemic started to damage Florida’s economy, more than 4.38 million unemployment claims have been filed with the state Department of Economic Opportunity, of which 2.05 million have resulted in state or federal payments that total $17.5 billion.

RELATED: Unemployment claims fall to 787,000; layoffs still high

In recent weeks, the state has received notifications of large layoffs from retailers, restaurants, airports and theme parks, which plan to downsize because of lighter-than-expected crowds after reopening in the summer.

A study released Wednesday by Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management projected COVID-19 has caused a $3.36 billion economic hit to hotels and restaurants in Miami-Dade County, which faced more stringent pandemic-related health restrictions than most of the state because of its large number of cases.

“South Florida's economy has a high reliance on the hospitality and travel-related business and our study shows if those sectors are down, it results in huge financial losses and an economic decline for the entire community,” said study author Eric Beckman, revenue management professor at the Chaplin School. 

The study, done in collaboration with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, considered 2019 revenue and the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic, including revenue losses, supply chain and business expenditures, operating expenses and the ripple effect of furloughed workers not spending on the local economy.

Among the findings, hospitality employment in Miami-Dade County was up 2.4 percent in January from a year earlier. By April, 45.4 percent of those jobs were gone, and in August hospitality employment was down from the same point in 2019 by 23.7 percent.

Statewide, the pandemic resulted in tourism dropping 60.5 percent in the second quarter of 2020. Third quarter numbers have not been released.

On Wednesday, Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young told participants in the Florida Chamber Foundation’s virtual Future of Florida Forum the state has expanded its reopening marketing effort to regions of the East Coast that are convenient drives and flights to the Sunshine State.

“As people become more comfortable traveling and travel restrictions ease, Visit Florida will continue to be aggressive in our approach to attract visitors from across the world to our state.” Young said.

The expansion is part of a $13 million marketing campaign, which started in September by asking Floridians to explore the state, using money held over from advertising efforts put on hold in the spring.

In opening the three-day forum on Tuesday, Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson pointed to the impact of COVID-19 in Brazil as he said he’s often asked when Florida will get back to normal.

“We normally have about 1.2 million people visit Florida from Brazil every year,” Wilson said. “It's going to be a long time before our friends in Brazil come back to Florida on a regular basis. So, that's just one of those things that we're keeping an eye on.”