Jobless Claims Drop Amid Efforts To Ramp Up Economy

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Tallahassee, FL - Florida had the nation’s largest decrease in new unemployment claims last week, amid Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest push to spur the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

First-time jobless claims in Florida dropped more than 37 percent during the week that ended Aug. 22, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report released Thursday.

The department estimated Florida had 45,723 new unemployment claims last week, down from an adjusted 72,774 first-time claims the prior week.

“I’m happy to say, as tough as it’s been, we have added jobs,” DeSantis said Thursday during an event in Tampa to talk about business issues. “These last few months, even in July, where we had the apex of the COVID epidemic here in the state of Florida, we were able to add about 75,000 private-sector jobs.”

Florida saw its unemployment rate jump from 10.3 percent in June to 11.3 percent in July. That represented an increase of 122,000 people, putting the number of Floridians out of work at 1.125 million.

Since mid-March, Florida has received about 3.7 million unemployment claims.

But Florida’s drop in first-time claims last week far outpaced all other states. Texas, for example, had 52,318 new claims last week, a decrease of 9,082.

California, with a nation-leading 209,516 new claims, increased by 19,162 in the week-to-week figures.

Nationally, there were 1.006 million new claims last week, a decrease of 98,000 from the previous week.

While DeSantis has tried to bolster the state’s economy, the tourism and hospitality industries have taken the biggest hits from the virus and are expected to be among the last to recover.

“We're seeing that business is really following the infection rate and what's happening on a daily basis,” Zach Feinstein, a founder of the Feinstein Group of restaurants, told DeSantis on Thursday.

The Dunedin-based Feinstein Group, which laid off 125 employees mid-March as the pandemic exploded, has been able to bring back nearly all its employees but only reopened three of its four high-end restaurants in the region, Feinstein said.

“It's been a big struggle as far as educating our customers that we're doing the right things and making sure they know we're a safe place to eat,” Feinstein said. “Not only that, but just the town that we're in, which is Dunedin, is safe. We're a big walking town. So, we're starting to see that come back a little bit, which is nice, for sure.”

Thursday’s roundtable discussion in Tampa followed a similar event Wednesday in Orlando. DeSantis described as a “success story” the ability of the state’s major theme parks to reopen in June and July without an outbreak of COVID-19, the respiratory virus caused by the coronavirus.

“I think over 90 percent of their full-time employees are back now,” DeSantis said.“They don't have quite as many of their part-time (employees), because you know, we're not in full demand yet. But that's been something that's been successful.”

The Orlando appearance came two days after he was in Miami Gardens supporting plans for Hard Rock Stadium to allow 20 percent occupancy during professional and college football games next month.

After businesses shut down or scaled back in March and April because of the pandemic, DeSantis in May started a phased approach to reopening the economy.

Almost all of the state, except the coronavirus hotspots of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, moved into a second phase in June. The South Florida counties, however, are moving toward joining the second phase.

Despite the reopening efforts, the state in late June prohibited bars and craft breweries from serving alcohol for on-site consumption because of widespread non-compliance with coronavirus safety measures. The prohibition remains in place.

Florida has drawn heavy national attention this summer because of a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

But on Thursday, DeSantis continued to play up health indicators, such as lower rates of people testing positive for COVID-19, fewer intensive-care hospitalizations and fewer people going to emergency rooms because of concerns about coronavirus-like illnesses.

“The picture with COVID-19 is much more positive than what we were dealing with at the end of June and the beginning of July. In particular, we are seeing fewer numbers of cases, a lower rate of positivity,” DeSantis said.

State health agencies reported a daily average of 3,342 new coronavirus cases over the past seven days, a decrease from 4,501 a day in the prior seven-day period. In July, the state averaged more than 10,000 new cases a day.

With 135 coronavirus-related deaths reported Thursday and 183 on Wednesday, the state has announced an average of 117 new deaths a day during the past week.

The number is down from an average of 163 deaths a day in the prior seven-day period.

The virus has killed 10,868 Floridians since March, with 3,970 deaths reported in August after 3,338 were announced in July.

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