Florida jobless rate drops in June as businesses reopen

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s unemployment rate dropped to 10.4% in June from the previous month’s 13.7% rate as the state’s theme parks, restaurants, bars and other businesses started reopening after weeks of coronavirus -related lockdowns, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday.

But the state’s economic future remains clouded by recent spikes in Florida’s COVID-19 caseload, as evidenced by this week’s showing that jobless claims almost doubled last week from the previous week, economists said.

Additionally, a host of large hotels have said that they are turning temporary furloughs from March into permanent layoffs at the end of July, and onsite consumption of alcohol at bars was banned at the end of June, causing many of them to shut their doors.

“Many businesses, particularly in South Florida, are facing a reduced demand and a lot of uncertainty due to the new surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Hector Sandoval, an economist at the University of Florida. “There are several companies in the accommodation and food services industry still announcing layoffs.”

Three counties in theme park-dependent metro Orlando had the state’s highest unemployment rates in June. Osceola County led the way with a 22.9% rate, followed by Orange County at 17.2% and Lake County at 14.3%.

Universal Orlando and SeaWorld started welcoming back visitors last month after being closed since mid-March because of the spreading coronavirus, but the impact may not have been fully reflected in the latest unemployment figures, which were generated in the second week of June.

The region’s largest employer, Walt Disney World, with a 77,000-person workforce, didn’t reopen until earlier this month, and it did so with a much smaller labor force because the theme parks are limiting the number of people allowed in to maintain social distancing protocols.

“We know that leisure and hospitality was one of the business groups impacted the most and that is highly concentrated in central Florida,” said Adrienne Johnston, bureau chief of Workforce Statistics and Economic Research at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Year-over-year, hospitality, the state’s hardest-hit industry, has lost more than 1 in 5 jobs in Florida, or 268,400 positions. The only industry gaining jobs over the past year was construction, with an additional 4,600 positions added, according to labor figures.

Metro Orlando has suffered more job losses, year to year, than any other region of the state, losing almost 170,000 positions. The Villages retirement community, which added 100 jobs, was the only area of Florida that had over-the-year gains.

Florida added 296,000 jobs from June to May, while in June, there were more than 1 million jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 9.7 million workers.

More layoffs in the hospitality industry are expected in July now that several large hotels have notified state and local officials that temporary furloughs are becoming permanent layoffs. They include more than 1,100 layoffs at Rosen Hotels & Resorts in Orlando, effective at the end of the month.

“Never in the 46-year history of my company would I have envisioned such a drastic decision,” Harris Rosen, the company’s president, said in a letter to state and local officials.

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