Unemployment claims fall in Florida

In this photo illustration, a person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. - The government reported Thursday that another 5.2 million US workers filed for unemployment benefits, taking the four-wee

First-time unemployment claims continue to drop in Florida as the leisure and hospitality industries sluggishly revive during the coronavirus pandemic.

Applications for jobless benefits in Florida decreased from 33,542 during the week that ended Oct. 24 to 28,702 during the week that ended Oct. 31, according to a U.S. Department of Labor estimate released Thursday.

The decrease came at the end of the first month after Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted statewide coronavirus business restrictions that, in part, had limited the numbers of people who could dine in restaurants. DeSantis on Sept. 25 also prohibited local governments from closing restaurants and collecting fines from people who don’t wear face masks in public.

While unemployment claims have gone down recently in Florida, the state, like other parts of the country, has seen an increase in cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused the coronavirus. As of Wednesday, Florida had reported 821,123 cases since the pandemic started.

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Florida has seen unemployment improvements despite theme parks and hotels struggling to draw customers.

Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment released an earnings report Thursday showing third-quarter attendance at its properties down from around 8.2 million in 2019 to 1.6 million this year. During the third quarter, the company reopened 10 of its 12 properties, including all five in Florida, with new coronavirus protocols in place.

Marc Swanson, interim chief executive officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, said in a news release that he was “encouraged by our third quarter results” and said officials “are particularly pleased with our recently concluded Halloween events and look forward to starting our popular Christmas events next week.”

Swanson added the company’s “pricing and product strategies are working and our guests appear willing to spend when they visit our parks.”

In mid-September, SeaWorld of Florida announced it would lay off 1,896 of its previously furloughed workers. No layoffs were listed in the latest earnings report.

Last week, Walt Disney Co. announced that 11,400 mostly union workers at properties across Central Florida will be let go on New Year’s Eve. The entertainment giant previously announced that about 6,700 non-union workers at the same properties will begin to face layoffs starting Dec. 4.

Disney employs about 77,000 people in Florida.

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Smaller businesses also continue to feel the impact of people traveling less for business and leisure.

In Miami Beach, the Eden Roc Miami Beach Hotel will make permanent the termination of 126 employees furloughed as part of cuts made in March.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in social distancing measures, travel restrictions, and ongoing government-mandated business closures, the hotel continues to experience a dramatic loss of business,” Christie Mutton, the hotel’s director of human resources, advised the state Department of Economic Opportunity on Oct. 28.

Centerplate, which provides food and beverage services at the Orange County Convention Center, notified the state agency that 471 worker furloughs due to the pandemic will remain in place indefinitely.

“While we are hopeful this layoff will continue to be temporary in nature, we are unable to predict a possible return date as this time,” the company wrote to the state on Oct. 14.

A sign of good news for the travel industry is the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday gave the cruise ship industry a framework to resume operations, lifting a “no sail” order in effect since mid-March. Still, most fleets aren’t expected to return to operations until next year.

PortMiami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades are three of the top cruise ports in the world, with large passenger ships also operating out of the Port of Tampa Bay, the Port of Palm Beach and JaxPort.

Since mid-March, the state has received about 4.5 million unemployment claims, of which 2.08 million have resulted in state or federal benefits being paid. The new claims peaked in April, but unemployment remains higher than normal in Florida. In September, it was 7.6 percent, representing an estimated 770,000 Floridians out of work.

Florida’s October unemployment report will be released Nov. 20.

Nationally, 751,000 first-time jobless claims were filed last week, down 7,000 from the prior week, bringing the four-week average of new weekly claims to 787,000, according to the Labor numbers. The national number included 152,428 claims in California; 76,338 claims in Illinois; 45,391 claims in New York; 38,832 claims in Massachusetts; 36,638 claims in Georgia; and 36,200 claims in Texas.