Ian impacts seen in the number of unemployed

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In the wake of Hurricane Ian, Florida continues to see its highest number of jobless claims in more than a year, with some Southwest Florida resorts announcing large temporary layoffs.

The U.S. Department of Labor released a report on Thursday that said Florida saw 9,077 jobless claims for the first time in the week ending Oct. 22, bringing the state’s four-week average to 9,905 requests. Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida on September 28 before crossing the state.

In the four weeks leading up to the storm, Florida averaged 5,498 claims, which is similar to the level of claims before the COVID-19 pandemic crashed into the economy in 2020.

Last week’s number, however, was down from 11,341 claims in the week ending October 15.

Thursday’s report came after the Ritz Carlton in Naples informed the state that it had laid off 591 employees because of the storm and the South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island in Lee County announced that it was laying off 238 workers. The Category 4 hurricane caused massive wind and flood damage in southwest Florida.

Marsha Michael, director of human resources for the Captiva Island resort, told the State Department of Economic Opportunity on Oct. 17 that the resort’s operations were halted “for the foreseeable future.”

Maribeth McElligott, Ritz Carlton, Naples Market Human Resources Manager, wrote in an Oct. 13 letter to the state and Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann that the layoffs could last “six months or more.”

“Experts and consultants continue to assess the extent of the natural disaster and have not yet determined when we will reopen the hotel for business,” McElligott wrote. “As we aim for the first part of 2023, reopening could be extended with the rebuilding of the power grid, infrastructure and supply chain delays.”

Ian’s overall impact on jobs will be best seen next month, when the state Department of Economic Opportunity releases an unemployment report in October.

A state economist said Friday that October figures would likely show an impact from the storm, but would not speculate on potential changes.

The last time Florida averaged more than 9,000 claims over a four-week period was in May 2021 and June 2021.

The Department of Economic Opportunity said last week that Florida’s unemployment rate in September was 2.5%. This measured employment conditions in mid-September, before the storm hit, and indicated that about 266,000 Floridians were out of work out of a labor force of 10.7 million.

Nationally, around 217,000 claims were filed last week, an increase of 3,000 from the week ending October 15. Over the past four weeks, weekly claims have averaged 219,000.

Also on Thursday, the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis pointed to a rebound in the domestic economy from declines earlier in the year. The bureau said U.S. gross domestic product rose 2.6% — slightly above estimates — between July and September. Rates had declined by 1.6% and 0.6% in the previous two quarters.

In anticipation of the storm increasing unemployment claims, the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity eliminated what’s known as the “waiting week” before unemployment benefits can be paid on claims made in the storm damaged areas. The agency also suspended the requirement for applicants in the regions to contact five potential employers a week to keep unemployment benefits flowing.

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