TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Jobless claims are spiking in Florida as many vital tourism and entertainment-related businesses have closed or limited services as the state struggles to combat the novel coronavirus.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday daily claims to the state’s reemployment assistance system have jumped from what could be 250, 500 or 1,000 a day to between 18,000 and 21,000 a day.
“This is a huge increase, and it just shows you how so many people have been dislocated,” DeSantis said. “We’re working on getting them the relief. We want the federal government to do stuff as well. But man, that’s not only going to have an economic cost but a health cost unless we work hard to remedy that as soon as possible.”
Imposed closings have come down hard on bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and vacation destinations such as Key West. Other employers that have been hit hard include hotels.
The state offers 12 weeks of unemployment benefits that top out at $275 a week, though a new federal stimulus package could bolster unemployment benefits.
DeSantis said he is working on federal assistance with President Donald Trump, who during a Fox News virtual town hall Tuesday said he hoped to have the country’s economy back up and running by April 12, the Easter holiday.
Asked about Trump’s comment, DeSantis wouldn’t give his own deadline, noting there is a middle ground between people who wanted to ignore the threat and people calling for a shutdown that could last up to nine months.
“Clearly, we’ve got to do something about the virus. And there is no way a nine-month shutdown would be sustainable,” DeSantis said. “I think the question is going to be, let’s work to blunt the force of the virus. Let’s protect those folks who could be most in jeopardy of really negative health impacts. But let’s also get society functioning so the overall public health is better. Because when people are employed, and they’re able to put food on the table for their family, that’s better. I really worry about suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, child abuse if this is allowed to go for months and months on end.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. Travel Association projected that nearly 6 million travel-related jobs in the country will be lost by the end of April due to the virus, doubling the national jobless rate from 3.5 percent to 7.1 percent.
In the most recent jobless numbers for Florida, the unemployment rate stood at a record low 2.8 percent in January, representing an estimated 291,000 Floridians out of work from a labor force of 10.44 million.
The leisure and hospitality field accounts for 1.28 million, or about 14 percent, of the 9.07 million non-agricultural jobs in the state.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will release February unemployment numbers on Friday.