Florida continues to see a slowing of first-time unemployment claims, with applications last week the lowest since the coronavirus pandemic started a year ago and as more federal stimulus money is poised to flow to the state.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimated Thursday that Florida had 16,005 initial unemployment claims filed during the week that ended March 6, down from a revised count of 19,020 claims in the week ending Feb. 27.
Florida’s drop came as the Department of Labor estimated 712,000 first-time unemployment claims were filed nationally last week, down 42,000 from the prior week. It also followed a move by the department Friday to revise Florida’s December unemployment rate from 6.1 percent to 5.1 percent.
During an appearance Friday in Marion County, Gov. Ron DeSantis described the revision in the December rate as “a testament that the state of Florida is doing a good job, we’re getting things done.”
On Monday, he incorporated the reduction into his criticism of how money from a new $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package will be distributed to states. The distribution involves looking at state unemployment rates, but DeSantis contends it should be based on population.
The state of Florida, along with local counties and cities, could get at least $17 billion from the relief package. But DeSantis contends the allocation could be about $2 billion higher if the federal government used population numbers and that Florida is being penalized for having a relatively low unemployment rate.
By Wednesday, DeSantis was calling the stimulus “bailout for blue states,” while his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, implored governors and local governments to reject the approximately $360 billion heading their way through the federal package.
In a letter released Wednesday, Scott, who served two terms as governor before getting elected to the Senate in 2018, called the package “massive, wasteful and non-targeted.”
“By rejecting and returning any unneeded funds, as well as funds unrelated to COVID-19, you would be taking responsible action to avoid wasting scarce tax dollars,” Scott wrote. “After all, every dollar in this package is borrowed.”
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will post the state’s January unemployment figures on Monday. Since March 15, 2020, the department has handled about 6.5 million claims, which have resulted in nearly 2.3 million claimants receiving more than $23.7 billion in state and federal assistance.
The number of new claims last week marked the lowest total since 6,463 claims came in the week ending March 14, 2020. The total leaped to 74,313 the following week, as the pandemic began causing businesses to shut down or scale back operations.
The weekly peak came April 18, when 506,670 claims were submitted.
With the jobless numbers improving and residents getting COVID-19 vaccinations, Florida’s chief investment officer Ash Williams, the executive director of the State Board of Administration, cautioned DeSantis and Cabinet members on Tuesday about the potential of short-term inflation.
Williams noted that similar inflation concerns were raised more than a decade ago as stimulus money was approved to reduce the impacts of the recession from 2007 to 2009.
“The view was there could be hyperinflation within two years,” Williams said about the recession. “In fact, none of that has happened. We’ve been in a disinflationary environment. I kind of think we’re probably at the end of that road now and we’re starting to see indicators of inflation in the pipeline.”
Among the indicators, Williams said, are rising petroleum prices without airlines flying at full capacity and cruise ships operating, lumber futures up from a year ago and shortages in appliances, furniture and other construction needs.
All of that signals tightening supplies, Williams said.
Williams said labor could next be in demand, anecdotally noting that the chairman of a major hotel chain recently told him about a dramatic increase in bookings for wedding receptions, graduation parties and other events delayed by the pandemic.
“As this gentleman said to me, we will be hiring tens of thousands, not thousands, tens of thousands of people to reopen hotels,” Williams said. “Hotels are very, very labor intensive. And we’ve got a lot of huge ones in Florida. And when that reopening happens, he (the hotel chairman) thought there was a reasonable argument that within a year or two we will see a labor shortage, in which case wages are going to climb, in which case you have more cost pressures. And as restaurants go to full service, they’re very, very labor intensive as well. And you’re going to see a lot of people coming back into the workforce that weren’t there before.”
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida