More than three-quarters of a million Floridians — 2,561 of them from Columbia County — joined the ranks of the unemployed as the coronavirus pandemic fully took hold in April, pushing the state’s jobless rate to 12.9%, according to state figures released Friday.
The rate was up from a revised 4.4% mark in March, when the virus began causing businesses to shut down or scale back. The jobless rate in Columbia County was 9.6% for April, also up from 4.4% in March.
The Department of Economic Opportunity estimate for April showed 1.218 million Floridians qualified as unemployed from a statewide workforce of 9.44 million. That was up from 457,000 people unemployed in March. The overall labor force also fell by nearly 9 percent last month.
The April unemployment rate surpasses Florida’s peak during the recession a decade ago.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said he knew the figures were going to be “significant,” while expressing hope that the economy will quickly rebound as businesses have started to reopen and expand services under the first phase of his recovery efforts.
“If we can get people back to work, get some confidence back in the communities, you’ll start to see, hopefully, a lot of these jobs be recovered,” DeSantis said Friday while at Ed Austin Park in Jacksonville.
“Just look at the theme parks, that’s over 100,000 jobs … from the theme parks,” he continued. “I think Universal has submitted a plan to reopen, and it was endorsed by Orange County. So, I’m going to be reviewing that. We met with the vice president (Vice President Mike Pence), we had Disney, SeaWorld, all those others (together on Wednesday). So, there’s definitely a path to get a lot of those people back to work, and that’s what we have to do.”
Florida’s monthly estimate came with a reduction in the labor force of 893,000 people, from about 10.3 million in March to 9.4 million in April, accounting for people out of work and not seeking employment.
“Reasons that a person would be considered out of the labor force (not unemployed) include: not wanting a job, not being able and available for work, and not looking for a job within the previous four weeks either due to discouragement over job prospects or due to other reasons,” Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said in an email.
The number of employed people dropped during the same time by 1.65 million, from 9.87 million to 8.22 million.
The state data show more than 1 million private-sector jobs disappeared between March and April.
A state website said Friday that about 2.1 million jobless claims have been filed since March 15, of which 1.74 million are considered “unique.” The department is expected to release May unemployment numbers on June 19.
The state’s April rate was better than the national rate, which increased from 4.4 percent in March to 14.7 percent in April.
Nevada had the highest unemployment rate in April at 28.2 percent, followed by Michigan at 22.7 percent and Hawaii at 22.3 percent.
DeSantis said efforts in other parts of the country to slow the spread of the respiratory virus have “come at a major, major cost.”
“What I tried to do there this whole time, and was criticized for it relentlessly, was have a lighter touch because had I took some approaches that were more draconian, I think you’d see those numbers be way worse. Without question, it would be way worse,” DeSantis said.
“So, we tried to mitigate that as best as we could. Obviously, when the national shutdown was happening, that’s going to affect Florida, because you’re going to have fewer people that are going to come down here. But we really worked hard to mitigate it, because I understood that when you’re doing these measures, it’s not free and very few people were talking about what could happen on the other end. I was one of the few that was willing to do that.”
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor estimated Florida received 472,972 first time claims the past two weeks.
In Florida, service-producing jobs accounted for the biggest month-to-month drop, with 1 million positions eliminated between March and April, a 12.6 percent reduction for the industry.