Florida’s unemployment rate reached a record high in April of almost 13%, tripling in one month as the economic slowdown from the coronavirus pandemic took hold, as some of the state’s largest employers such as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios shed workers.
Florida’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to 12.9% in April from 4.3% in March and from 2.8% in February, before the pandemic caused a state and nationwide closure of many businesses. About 1.3 million Floridians had lost their jobs out of a workforce of 10 million when this survey for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was conducted in mid-April, a number that has continued to climb into May.
The national unemployment rate reached 14.7% in April, up from 3.5% in February, reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, an industry that has collapsed in two months as people are forced to stay close to home because of the virus.
The state’s theme parks closed in March, but some are making small steps toward reopening. Disney World reopened a shopping area this week and Universal reopened an entertainment area last week. SeaWorld expects to reopen next month. Florida’s theme parks are an $86 billion industry whose guests flood into hotels and restaurants, primarily in the Orlando area.
The cruise industry, an economic driver in numerous coastal cities, has also been shuttered and agriculture has suffered as institutional buyers such as restaurants, hotels, and schools have been closed or severely restricted.
Angie Orth, a self-employed travel and public relations writer and photographer who freelances for Universal, Disney, and other tourism businesses, says by early March all her projects were canceled or postponed and the business has not returned.
“We went from a full calendar through November to nothing in a matter of weeks,” said Orth, 38 of Jacksonville. “Many of the people who pay us have been laid off or furloughed. It’s dire.”
She and her sister also own a short-term vacation rental, an industry Florida also shut down, drying up her only other source of income. Gov. Ron DeSantis opened vacation rentals for much of the state this week, but her county still won’t allow it.
“We haven’t had a reservation since the first week of March, but all the bills are still due,” she said. Problems with the state’s unemployment system, which delayed payments to hundreds of thousands of Floridians, took her nearly two months to overcome, a problem she laid on DeSantis and his administration.
“It’s heartbreaking to see how Florida’s government has let us down,” she said.
DeSantis is expected to speak later Friday in Jacksonville. He has said that nearly all the bugs have been worked out of the unemployment system and back payments have been made. He has blamed the problems on the administration of his predecessor, now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican.
The state has had nearly 49,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March 1 and 2,144 deaths, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Florida unemployment rate triples in April to nearly 13%