JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s unemployment rate jumped higher in May, hitting a record 14.5% as the state continued reeling from the economic shutdowns caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity said an estimated 1.412 million Floridians were out of work from a labor force of nearly 9.71 million. The department also revised upward the April unemployment rate to 13.8%. It had been earlier estimated at 12.9%.
Before the coronavirus hit and devastated the state’s tourism, retail and other industries, February’s unemployment rate had been 2.8%. Florida has shed about 850,000 jobs compared to May 2019.
The state’s unemployment is at levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Before April, the highest unemployment Florida had seen since World War II had been 11.3% in early 2010.
Earlier this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed optimism about May’s unemployment numbers, saying, “Hopefully, positivity will be reflected.”
Despite the increase in the state unemployment rate, Adrienne Johnston, bureau chief of workforce statistics and economic research at the Department of Economic Opportunity, pointed to signs people are returning to the workforce after DeSantis started reopening efforts in early May.
“You can see both things happening at the same time,” Johnston said of the unemployment rate going up while people return to jobs that had been put on hold as part of efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
“There are likely people who are coming back into the workforce, they’re encouraged to find jobs,” she said in a conference call with reporters, including the News Service of Florida. “And so, they may be counted as unemployed, but they are actively seeking work, and they were not counted as that in the prior month.”
There is evidence new unemployment claims are slowing as only 210,000 people filed claims in the first 17 days of June -- less than half than were filed during the last 17 days of May.
The Jacksonville metropolitan area had a 11.2% rate for the past two months. St. Johns County and Nassau counties showed the largest increases while Putnam County had the largest decrease in May unemployment rate.
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The Labor Department says unemployment rates fell in 38 states, rose in three and were largely unchanged in nine. All told, the figures illustrate the unusually broad nature of the recession, with all states enduring unemployment rates that soared in April as the coronavirus forced business closures and then generally fell but remained painfully high in May.