Jobless claims in Florida close to pre-pandemic levels

Jobless claims peaked in Florida at 506,670 during the week ending April 18, 2020, records show

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File) (Nam Y. Huh, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Heading into Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping rush, Florida had its lowest four-week run of new unemployment claims since before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the number of claims nationally, driven by strong job growth amid pre-holiday consumer spending, hit a five-decade low.

The U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday estimated 5,343 first-time unemployment claims were filed in Florida during the week that ended Nov. 20, putting the average during the past four weeks at 6,045 claims.

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That brought the state closer to the average of 5,376 claims recorded in the four weeks before March 15, 2020, the date state and federal officials cite as the start of the pandemic for unemployment purposes.

With tourism and other service-related jobs bearing the brunt, unemployment claims jumped to 74,313 during the week ending March 21, 2020, and peaked at 506,670 during the week ending April 18, 2020.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday touted Florida’s third-quarter tourism numbers, which exceeded totals in the pre-pandemic third quarter of 2019. He also said the state has been investing in workforce training to attract other industries.

“We have a great business environment for (manufacturing). A lot of the places where manufacturing grew up many decades ago, have been more difficult to do business in,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Fort Lauderdale.

“And we also have probably the strongest commitment in the country, since I’ve been governor, to vocational education and skills-based training,” DeSantis continued. “We’re training people to be able to get skills that are immediately marketable in the economy right now. You know, everything from welding, to aircraft maintenance, to the commercial vehicle drivers. There’s a huge shortage in that.”

Florida’s latest weekly unemployment number was down from a revised count of 6,116 claims for the week ending Nov. 13. The Department of Labor initially projected 5,654 first-time claims during the week ending Nov. 13.

Last Friday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity issued a report that said the state had an October unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, down from 4.8 percent in September. The October rate reflected an estimated 491,000 Floridians out of work from a labor force that grew by 29,000 to 10.59 million.

The report also indicated that Florida had regained 86.6 percent of the 1.27 million jobs lost between February and April 2020, a period when businesses had to shut down or dramatically scale back because of the pandemic.

Nationally, the Labor Department report estimated 199,000 first-time claims last week, down 71,000 from the prior week.

“This is the lowest level for initial claims since Nov. 15, 1969, when it was 197,000,” the report said.

Over the past four weeks, the nation has averaged 252,250 seasonally adjusted weekly claims, the lowest number since just before the start of the pandemic.

“At first glance, today’s reported drop in seasonally adjusted new jobless claims is stunning,” tweeted Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “That’s the lowest reported since 1969. Seasonally adjusted part is key, however. There’s a good chance we’ll see a move higher. But the job market is tight, no doubt.”

Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported the U.S. exceeded analysts’ expectations by adding 531,000 jobs in October, with the unemployment rate dropping 0.2 percentage points to 4.6 percent. The numbers were seen as a rebound for the labor market after a summer surge of COVID-19 cases linked to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.