More people filed unemployment claims in Florida last week than ever have before in the state.
More than 74,000 individuals applied, shattering Florida’s previous record of 40,403 set in 2009 as the state reeled from the Great Recession. The jobless reports also amounted to a massive jump from the previous week when 6,256 claims were filed.
The jump comes as businesses across the state were forced to either close or scale back. Hospitality and tourism workers lost jobs as venues canceled large events, restaurant workers found themselves out of work as their employers were forced to close dining rooms and other businesses faced hardship as Floridians opted to stay-in per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing recommendations.
And it could get worse.
Local governments throughout the state are lining up to issue stay-at-home orders, or some variation there of, which only increase the number of businesses forced to close their doors.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Tuesday that 21,000 Floridians had filed claims on Monday alone, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Others were unable to apply as problems with the website kicked some applicants out or locked their claims.
And some applicants have complained that the process is too difficult.
Douglas Restrepo, 47, worked as an employee at a clothing store in an outdoor shopping center facing Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami until last week. When Miami-Dade County ordered non-essential businesses shut down, his manager let him and other employees go.
Restrepo tried to file his unemployment claim through an online portal run by the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, but has been struggling to access his account since he can’t remember login details from when he was last unemployed for two weeks five years ago.
“I have been trying to get through them. They are not answering my calls. I understand a lot of people are trying to get unemployment, but this has been very difficult,” Restrepo said.
Further, the state Department of Economic Opportunity has been fielding eight times the amount of calls it usually receives, surging from 28,000 to nearly 225,000.
None of that is good news for displaced Florida workers. The state has one of the lowest benefits in the nation with just $275 a week available for only 12 weeks.
Though DeSantis has signed an executive order to make benefits available to more people and shaved away requirements that out-of-work individuals prove they are looking for work.
Nationally, the picture is even worse.
Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982.
The pace of layoffs is sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms, and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.
As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13% by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%.
The economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. And the economy was growing steadily if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever — a contraction that could reach 30%.
With layoffs surging, a significant expansion of unemployment benefits for the millions who will lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak was included in an economic relief bill nearing final approval in Congress. One provision in the bill would provide an extra $600 a week on top of the unemployment aid that states provide. Another would extend 13 additional weeks of benefits beyond the six months of jobless aid that most states offer.
Separate legislation passed last week provides up to $1 billion to states to enhance their ability to process claims. But that money will take time to be disbursed.
Jessy Morancy of Hollywood, Florida, was laid off Friday from her job as a wheelchair attendant and customer service agent at Fort Lauderdale Airport. Morancy, 29, called the state unemployment office Monday to try to file for unemployment benefits but encountered just a recorded message telling her to call back later.
She was also concerned that even a full unemployment benefit of $275 a week would be less than half of what she earned at her job and insufficient to provide for her children, ages 10 and 7.
“I’m still in a state of shock,” Morancy said.
She said she has heard that airline employees might continue to receive salaries if Congress provides financial assistance to the airlines. Yet even so, it’s not clear that employees like her who work for contractors — Eulen America, in her case — would be eligible.
“If these companies are going to get a bailout, why not include us?” Morancy said.
Even for those able to file a claim, the benefits will take time to kick in. It typically takes two to three weeks before applicants receive any money. State agencies must first contact their former employers to verify their work and earnings history. Only then can the employee’s weekly unemployment benefits be calculated.
Worsening the problem, most state agencies that handle unemployment claims are operating at historically low funding levels and staffing that are intended to handle a trickle of claims. Just weeks ago, the job market was in the strongest shape it had been in decades.