The impact of Hurricane Ian can be seen in Florida’s jobless numbers

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

The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that Florida had 9,077 first-time jobless claims in the week ended Oct. 22, bringing the state’s four-week average of 9,905. Hurricane Ian made landfall in 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 hit the economy in 2020.

However, last week’s number was down from 11,341 claims during the week ending October 15.

Thursday’s news came after the Ritz Carlton in Naples told the state it was laying off 591 employees because of the storm and the South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island in Lee County said it was laying off 238 employees. The Category 4 hurricane caused massive wind and flooding damage in Southwest Florida.

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

Maribeth McElligott, the Ritz Carlton’s Naples human resources market director, wrote in an Oct. 13 letter to the state and Naples Mayor Teresa Heitmann that the layoffs could take “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. “While we are targeting the first part of 2023, reopening could be delayed by rebuilding the power grid, infrastructure and supply chain delays.”

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

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

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

The Department of Economic Opportunity reported last week that Florida’s unemployment rate was 2.5% in September. It measured labor conditions in mid-September, before the storm hit, and showed an estimated 266,000 Floridians out of a labor force of 10.7 million.

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

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis pointed to a recovery in the nation’s economy after declines at the start of the year. The bureau reported that US gross domestic product rose 2.6% between July and September, slightly above estimates. Rates fell by 1.6% and 0.6% in the previous two quarters.

In anticipation of the storm boosting jobless claims, the state Department of Economic Opportunity has canceled a so-called “waiting week” before unemployment benefits can be paid from claims filed in storm-damaged areas. The agency also suspended the requirement that area claimants contact five potential employers per week to maintain unemployment benefits.

Jim Turner reports for the News Service of Florida.

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