TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Economic reopening efforts across Florida were reflected Thursday in a report on initial unemployment claims, which fell last week below six figures for the first time since the coronavirus shuttered businesses in March.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported 1.5 million new claims nationally during the week that ended June 13, including an estimated 86,298 in Florida. The Florida estimate was down from 112,161 claims during the week that ended June 6, the biggest drop of any state.
Florida, which is engaged in the second phase of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reopening effort, also had a nation-leading decline of 95,546 claims between the weeks ending May 30 and June 6.
On Tuesday, DeSantis vowed to keep advancing the state’s reopening efforts despite a surge in infections of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
“We are not shutting down. We are going to go forward.,” DeSantis told reporters Tuesday. “We are going to continue to protect the most vulnerable. We are going to urge and continue to advise our elderly population to maintain social distancing and avoid crowds.”
DeSantis attributed the increases in COVID-19 cases to factors such as state efforts to target testing in high-risk areas, including nursing homes and prisons. Also, he pointed to several cluster areas in the state that he said skewed the percentage of positive cases upward.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, accused DeSantis of “recklessly reopening Florida despite the data screaming for caution.”
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity on Friday will release unemployment data for May. The state’s unemployment rate soared from 2.8 percent in February, before the effects of the pandemic began, to 12.9 percent in April.
DeSantis started the first phase of his economic reopening plan in May, with it centering on allowing limited numbers of customers in restaurants and retail stores. It initially excluded Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, which have been hardest hit by the virus, but they were later added.
The governor began a second phase of the reopening plan this month, broadening the types of businesses that could open and the numbers of customers who could be served.
The U.S. Department of Labor on June 5 reported that the national unemployment rate fell from 14.7 percent in April to 13.3 percent in May, as employers added 2.5 million jobs. The numbers that will be released Friday will provide a detailed look at how Florida fared during May.
Tourism and hospitality-related businesses, which are critical in Florida, were largely shut down after the pandemic began but have been gradually reopening.
Since March 15, more than 2.5 million jobless applications have been filed in Florida, with 2.3 million considered “unique,” according to the Department of Economic Opportunity. The difference is due to duplicates or incomplete paperwork.
Of the unique claims, more than 2.13 million had been processed as of Tuesday, with 1.45 million people eligible for state assistance. Another 460,180 had been ruled ineligible for state and federal benefits. The state administers federal benefits passed by Congress as part of an economic-stimulus plan.
The Department of Economic Opportunity has paid out $6.3 billion in benefits, of which $1.6 billion was from the state.