March unemployment spikes to 4.3% amid coronavirus shutdowns
COVID-19 warning yellow ribbon written with: Quarantine zone Cover 19 on Florida flag illustration. Coronavirus danger area, quarantined country.

Florida flag illustration. Coronavirus danger area, quarantined country.
The leap shows the initial economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.

Florida’s unemployment rate leapt to 4.3% in Florida as the economic ramifications of a global pandemic begin to show, according to the latest report from the Department of Economic Opportunity.

It’s a stark but expected jump in unemployment from the 2.8% reported in February. State leaders acknowledged last month the February report represented the pre-COVID-19 era.

Florida’s nonagricultural employment (seasonally adjusted) was 9.035 million, which represents a 126,000-job gain from March last year. But it was a decrease of 36,600 jobs just the month before, and the annual growth in number of jobs wasn’t enough to account for the growth in workers in the past year and the sudden disappearance of jobs as many industries furlough or lay off major segments of their workforce.

Nationally unemployment is at 4.4%.

The data tracks jobs information through the week of March 12, and DEO officials remind that many of the most severe economic consequences of coronavirus did not kick in until later in the month. The department’s snapshot ends just when amusement parks and Major League Baseball spring training games were being shut down but before many businesses closed or dramatically scaled back.

The report confirms daunting numbers released last week that showed an abrupt end to a decade of job growth nationwide.

The jobs report comes the same day the U.S. Department of Labor reported almost 181,300 Floridians filed jobless claims, raising the number of Floridians seeking unemployment benefits over the past three weeks to more than 520,000. The state later said the number of claims has reached 800,000.

Meanwhile, Florida’s unemployment system continues to come under steady attack from citizens struggling to file for unemployment.

It’s been a harrowing time for Florida economically, with DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson coming under increasing fire this week. Gov. Ron DeSantis largely sidelined the agency head this week, tapping instead Department of Management Services head Jon Satter in charge of Florida’s response to the unemployment surge.

Satter wasn’t ready to make a projection Friday on where the rate for Florida could go when numbers are updated again but said he is focused on reducing the claims backlog.

“The task is pretty daunting,” he admitted. “I lie awake, for the couple hours that I do lie in bed at night. It’s a task. There are a lot of steps to this. It is a very complicated process, but we are confident we are making progress hour by hour. Hopefully, we are going to get Floridians paid very, very soon.”

DeSantis on Thursday issued an executive order suspending requirements for laid off workers to confirm every two weeks they remain unemployed, something which would only further bog down a beleaguered system. At the time of the order, only 80,000 of the 850,000 Floridians waiting for benefits could as yet receive them.

The Governor has expressed support for making benefits retroactive to the point an individual lost their job, but has not yet responded to Democratic calls to extend benefits to 26 weeks instead of 12.

Florida this month went under a statewide stay-at-home order and has seen substantial outbreaks of COVID-19, particularly in South Florida.


Material from The News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]

One comment

  • John

    April 18, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    Judging from all of the businesses I see closed, these numbers are just too low. Thanks to the governor and his administration dragging their feet on the unemployment issue things are going to be much worst. If we had the funds in our hands we could at least support many business but of course the governor and his staff are not economist and maybe support trickle down economics so yes things will be really bad in Florida for quite awhile.

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